Vuelta a España 7: Degenkolb takes sprint

Argos-Shimano riders goes 3-for-3 in sprints

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John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) turned on the speed on the Motorland Aragon, winning the mass sprint of the seventh stage of the Vuelta a Espana. Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEdge) were second and third on the race track.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) easily held on to his overall lead, tucked safely in the midst of the field. There were no major changes in the GC on the stage.

It was the third sprint victory in three sprint finishes for Degenkolb and brought his season total of wins up to nine.

The stage was marked by a long breakaway, with Pablo Lechuga (Andalucia), Frantisek Rabon (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) getting away very soon after the start. The latter two were caught with only 15km left to go.

Four men in the lead

The break group of the day formed only minutes after a sharp start. Pablo Lechuga (Andalucia), Frantisek Rabon (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) were the lucky ones on this seventh stage.

They posed no threat at all, since Lechuga was the highest ranked of the small group, at 26:10 down. But this was one of the few stages where the sprinters would have a chance, and Degenkolb was hungry for a third stage win, so his Argos-Shimano team took over the chase work. His teammates held the gap steady at around the five-minute mark.

The other sprinters' teams moved up to help, as the stage went on. Sky and RadioShack joined in the work, and the gap started coming down, so that it was only just above two minutes with 53km to go.

With some 55km to go, there was a crash in the midst of the field, with Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp) and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) hitting the pavement. Both continued on their way, although Martin's bike needed quite a bit of work first.

Elia viviani (liquigas-cannondale) put his head down, but had to settle for second behind degenkolb:
Elia viviani (liquigas-cannondale) put his head down, but had to settle for second behind degenkolb:
Viviani (at left) gave Degenkolb a run for the money, but couldn't seal the deal

As the gap dropped to the 1:30 mark, the co-ordination amongst the four leaders dwindled. The two Spanish riders struggled at times to hang on to the other two.

With 29km to go and a gap of only 1:06, Rabon turned on his speed. Lechuga was the first to be dropped, and Lindeman and Aramendia fought over who would chase. The three finally came together again. Lindeman was the next to take off, but he, too, was unable to stay alone in the lead.

The Belgian took off again at 20km and got a 20-second gap, but by then it was too late. The trio had already started looking back over their shoulders at the onrushing peloton. Aramendia finally had to fall back, but with 15km, Rabon and Lindeman were caught as well.

A large crash in the middle of the field with about 12km to go split things up. Fortunately all the riders involved were able to get up and going again.

At the 5km marker, the teams of the top favourites moved to the front, to bring their leaders safely to the safety of the three-kilometer limit. Sky led the field on to the race track - a nice, wide road with a smooth surface.

Sky had not only second-ranked Chris Froome in its ranks, but also sprinter Ben Swift, and the British team led the sweep around the track. So fast in fact, that its riders were able to open a small gap temporarily. Degenkolb's Argos teammates quickly countered that danger.

The young German didn't find it so easy this time. Blocked in at first, he had to fight to get to the front and then turned on his speed to claim yet another win. Viviani did all he could, but ended up only pounding his bike in frustration over his second place. Sky's sprinter Swift was only 10th, after all the team's lead work.

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