ITV's Matt Rendell oversaw Stage 7 of La Vuelta, could the stage finish mark a generational change?
Not the most distinguished breakaway in history formed at the stage start. Alone of the four, Luis Ángel Maté of Marbella and Cofidis has a win to his name in the annals. Nay, two wins: a stage of the Tour de San Luis last year, riding for (all together now) Androni Giocattoli - Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni, and a stage of the Route du Sud on 19 June this year, his first for Cofidis.
His team-mate Julien Fouchard, Andalucía-Caja Granada’s Antonio Cabello, and Stage 2 breakaway hero – all right, yomper – are all winless. And so they are destined to remain, for the time being.
Maté, the local, said before the stage that side winds could complicate what looked like a sure sprinter’s thing. They didn’t. Cofidis turned their numerical advantage in the breakaway to no good effect. They stretched their lead to nine minutes. Nothing happened. It was turgid stuff.
But, cycling being what it is, when that changed, it changed fast – and I’m not just referring to the fall involving Peols, Van Avermaet, Cataldo with 25km to go. None of them, thank heavens, were badly hurt, it would seem.
No: approaching the second intermediate sprint, 22.9km from the finish. Team Sky sent all hands to the front. Ian Stannard churned the pedals and chewed the bars at speed, with Wiggins on his wheel, and we were reminded that, barring Mark Cavendish taking up Graeco-Roman wrestling, Sky will be riding for sprint stages at next year’s Tour de France, which will affect Wiggins’ position in the peloton and also his work rate. He and his team have chosen the Vuelta to rehearse next year’s schedule. They’re taking the task serious enough to want to put Brad where he’ll have to be if his team-mates are leading out Cav.
20km out, the four began to fight each other. Fouchard held out longest, and was finally caught beneath the 8km banner. Wiggins appeared at the rear of the peloton, with his entire team around him. We don’t know why: some sort of mechanical problem. But he was piloted straight back to the front, as everyone received the order from the team cars to get to the front.
Fast forward to the final kilometre. Michal Golas, Vacansoleil’s Pole, attacked on the left and made a small gain. He ran out of steam as Marcel Kittel hit the front, with Sagan, Freire and Bennati unable to keep up. Farrar, horribly out of position for a man with a lead-out train at his disposal, was at top speed when he collided with Golas, and the two went down. Daniele Bennati darted around Golas at speed, just before the impact,. Juan José Haedo’s escape was even narrower: he was sandwiched between Farrar and Golas at the moment of impact. He somehow ghosted around them and made it through to finish sixth.
Farrar and Golas went to hospital for precautionary x-rays. Overall contenderMichel Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) crossed the line with a grimace and a nasty blow to his left calf. Reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali’s right buttock took a hard knock, too. Others involved in the fall? Reynes, Lastras, Erviti, Farrar, Scarponi, Losada? We’ll find out overnight, when apparently banal injuries can flare up.
One thing, however, we can say now: the stage finish marks a generational change, with a 23-year-old and a 21-year-old first and second, and old-timers Freire (35) and Bennati (30) third and fourth. Kittel, third on stage two, wins his first Grand Tour stage. Sagan, who got HIS yesterday, is second. Two landmarks in the sport have been reached in as many days.
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