Vuelta 7: Kittel confirms as top sprinter

Crash claims Farrar in finale

Opportunities for the sprinters have been limited at this year’s Vuelta but Friday afternoon’s  finish  in Talavera de la Reina ended with thrills and spills as in-form German sprinter Marcel Kittel took out the seventh stage with a powerful kick.

Stage six winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and experienced Spaniard Oscar Freire (Rabobank) took second and third respectively but Skil-Shimano were the only ones celebrating. Garmin-Cervélo sprinter Tyler Farrar and many other riders were left licking their wounds when they tumbled at speed, within sight of the line.

“It’s like a dream today,” said Kittel, who has enjoyed a stellar run over the past two months, with four stage victories in the Tour of Poland and another quartet in the Four Days of Dunkerque. He now has a Grand Tour win in that palmares and he paid tribute to his Skil-Shimano squad.

“We’re so proud of each other today,” continued Kittel. “We did really good teamwork and I’m so happy.”

Whilst Kittel was cashing in on his great form, the crash in the final metres spoiled the day for everyone else, bringing down not only fast men but general classification hopeful Michele Scarponi, who had to pick himself up off the pavement along with several others including Vacansoleil-DCM’s Michal Golas, who suffered some serious-looking facial and dental injuries.

The high drama came at the end of another rather unspectacular stage that saw Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) remain in the red leader’s jersey at day’s end despite the carnage in the final metres. The Frenchman still sits 15 seconds ahead of Katusha’s Dani Moreno, with the defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) looming large a further second behind in third overall.

Reining them in before Talavera de la Reina

The last time Talavera de la Reina hosted a stage finish of the Vuelta, two years ago, a break prevailed in the city as Anthony Roux braved the late storm and won ahead of a thundering peloton.

Today the winner came from the big bunch that belted into town, after the four-man breakaway was unable to repeat the heroics of two years ago. Cofidis pair Luis Angel Mate and Julien Fouchard, plus Antonio Cabello Baena (Andalucia Caja Granada) and Steve Houanard (AG2R La Mondiale) were the men making headway early in the stage to form the escape group.

The quartet touched eight minutes at one point and they still enjoyed a lead of 2:43 with 50km remaining. But a further 20km down the road that had dropped by a minute. The sprinters’ teams had matters in control and it was clear that they weren’t going to let this plucky group keep the spoils when pickings have been limited thus far in the Vuelta.

Soon after a minor crash with 27km remaining that delayed BMC Racing’s Greg Van Avermaet, it was Team Sky which opened the throttle and made life difficult for those caught in the accident and subsequently chasing the peloton.

The pace meant that the rear of the bunch had also split significantly, and following the savage acceleration, the break’s advantage was slashed to just 40 seconds. Soon after Mate tried to make his mark on the stage by heading off the front of the escapees’ group solo. It was in vain as Mate’s companions soon regained contact and countered the Spaniard, with Fouchard also trying his luck but becoming the final domino to fall with eight kilometres remaining.

Four kilometres later, with the finish not far away, it was time for HTC-Highroad to come to the front, battling Rabobank to position John Degenkolb and Leigh Howard at the head of the peloton as Team Sky’s riders positioned themselves to help another Australian, Chris Sutton, in his quest for another stage win. With the man who has tasted success in the finish city in 2007– Daniele Bennati – under their wing, Leopard-Trek’s riders pushed themselves into place with two kilometres from the finish but Kittel’s Skil-Shimano teammates took over from them in the final left-hand corner.

The Dutch squad’s train was impressive in the closing kilometre, with Kittel able to come out of his final teammate’s slipstream with just 200 metres remaining. Just as he hit the front, Farrar tangled with Golas and others, hit the ground hard, falling in front of his fellow sprinters and much of the peloton.

Upfront and out of danger, Kittel had the speed and power to hold off Sagan, Freire and Bennati for a deserved win despite the confusion behind him. His sprinting prowess confirmed that his recent run of success was no fluke and he could transfer that form to the Grand Tour stage.

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