PETER Sagan put an end to a two-month drought of wins and rewarded his Tinkoff-Saxo team mates for their efforts by snatching stage 3 of la Vuelta in a bunch sprint finish in Malaga.
After collecting second places on the Tour de France, the Slovak finally earned the top spot he deserved by out-sprinting France’s Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) and Germany’s John Degenkolb (Giant Alpecin).
Colombia’s Esteban Chaves (Orica-Greenedge), the winner of stage 2, retained his overall lead.
Marcus Burghardt (BMC), who hurt his knee in a crash yesterday, did not start.
The start was given at 13:55 to 193 riders.
From the gun, Sylvain Chavanel (IAM), Maarten Tjallinghi (LottoNL-Jumbo), Martin Velits (Etixx-Quick Step) and Walter Pedraza (Colombia) broke clear. Nine kilometres later, they were joined by Alexis Gougeard (ag2r-La Mondiale), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural), Natnael Berhane (MTN-Qhubeka) and Ilia Koshevoy (Lampre-Merida).
At the top of the Alto de Mijas (3rd cat, Km 14), the eight escapees, led by Fraile, left the peloton trailing by three minutes. The Orica-Greenedge team of red jersey holder Esteban Chaves was controlling the chase.
The stage 2 crash continued to take his toll – Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) was forced out at kilometer 48. Later in the day, Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory) also called it quits because of a stomach bug.
The gap between the eight leaders and the main pack reached a maximum of 4:20 at the foot of Puerto del Leon, the first 1st cat. climb in this Vuelta.
In the ascent, the lead had been reduced down 2:55 by the joint efforts of the Tinkoff-Saxo and Giant-Alpecin team-mates of Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb. At the top, Fraile against grabbed the points on offer to take over the polka-dot jersey from Esteban Chaves.
In the descent, the leading group split on the impulse of Sylvain Chavanel but only Velits and Koshevoy were definitely dropped.
The gap settled at 1:15 with 50 km to go and was the same at the intermediate sprint of Torre del Mar, won by Chavanel.
Shortly before it, Bouhanni, already hurt in the stage 2 crash, went down with Daniele Bennati. But they were both uninjured.
The 30-km mark spurred Tjallingii and Gougeard into action as their breakaway companions were gradually reined in by the relentless efforts of the Tinkoff-Saxo train.
Both good time-trial specialists, they took the gap to 1:40 with 20 km to go but were pulled back six kilometers further down the road after Giant-Alpecin shared the chasing duties.
A surge by Canada’s Antoine Duchesne 9 km from the line was the only vain attempt to avoid a bunch sprint. It was launched in the last kilometre by Giant-Alpecin, who seemed to set-up Degenkolb ideally.
But the German, who started too early, was quickly overtaken by Sagan, who powered his way to the line with Bouhanni in his wake.
On Tuesday, August 25 – stage 4 will see the riders cover the 213.6km from Estepona to Vejer de la Frontera.