This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Steve Cummings (BMC) made full use of the pursuit skills he honed on the track earlier in his career as he powered to victory in the final four kilometres of stage 13 of the Vuelta a España to Ferrol. The Briton was part of a seven-man break that animated the day’s racing and he chose his moment wisely by punching clear just as the move’s unity was beginning to fragment.
An Olympic silver medallist in the team pursuit in Athens in 2004, Cummings had to face these final 4,000 metres alone, although he could sense the ferocious chase that was taking place just behind, led by another man with serious pedigree in the discipline, Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge).
Fully aware that he was doomed to failure in the event of a sprint, Cummings could ill afford a moment’s hesitation once he committed himself to his solitary effort on the exposed roads in the finale, particularly with Meyer dragging Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) across to him.
Coming underneath the red kite, Meyer was almost within touching distance of Cummings’ rear wheel, but just as he was about to stretch out and grab for his coattails, Cummings summoned up the strength to edge clear once again. Flecha, who had initially broken the détente in the group by attacking 7km out, was unable to make any inroads when he contributed to the pace-setting and Cummings held on to win by four seconds.
“I had to win alone because there were fast people in the group,” Cummins said afterwards, mindful that Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) would have been odds-on favourite to take the spoils had the seven-man break reached the finish together.
That break went clear 42km into a stage that saw the peloton roughly travel the reverse course of the Camino Inglés, one of the historic pilgrimage routes of the Way of Saint James, from the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela to Ferrol. On a flat day that seemed destined to end in a bunch sprint, it required a considerable leap of faith from the day’s seven pilgrims to believe in their chances from the outset, but Cummings’ conviction was rewarded with stage victory, as the main peloton rolled in 40 seconds down.
“The whole day was hard with the wind, but in the end I played it very well,” said Cummings, who struggled with injury earlier in the season following his switch from Sky. “This win is for my team for always supporting me, because it’s been a very difficult year.”
In the race for the general classification, red jersey Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) enjoyed an untroubled day in the main peloton ahead of three potentially decisive stages in the coming days. On the eve of the Vuelta’s entry into Asturias, the Spaniard has a 13-second buffer over Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), while Chris Froome (Sky) lies in 3rd place at 51 seconds.
How it unfolded
As has been the case since the weekend, the stage began at a rapid pace, and it took the best part of an hour for a break to be allowed to go clear. Cummings, Meyer, Flecha, Viviani, Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack-Nissan) were eventually given a day pass, but they were never permitted a lead of more than four minutes as Argos-Shimano policed affairs behind.
Argos-Shimano’s belief in their man Degenkolb can only have been enhanced when Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat) was forced out of the Vuelta with a knee injury midway through the stage, and when the break’s advantage shrank to two minutes with 20 kilometres remaining, it seemed as though Degenkolb was on course to win his fifth stage of the race.
Two factors would conspire against him, however – the leading group was composed of seven strongmen who collaborated smoothly until deep into the race, while the undulating roads in the finale proved more of a hindrance to the peloton’s pursuit than the road book might have suggested.
Inside the final 10 kilometres, a dangerous move featuring Dani Moreno (Katusha), Andrey Kashechkin (Astana) and Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) zipped clear. While their counter-attack initially provided something of a carrot for the peloton to chase, the impetus went out of the pursuit as soon as they were swept up, and the stage was set for the seven escapees to fight out the win.
Juan Antonio Flecha was the first man to break from their alliance of circumstance, jumping away with a shade under 7km to go, and Meyer was put to the pin of his collar to bring De Gendt, Gerdemann and Cummings back up to him a couple of kilometres later.
It was at this point that Cummings sensed his opportunity and attacked ferociously down the right hand side of the road. Cummings never succeeded in opening out a sizeable gap over Meyer and Flecha, but at the start point of the Camino Inglés, that small advantage proved to be enough for the Englishman.