Post Stage Analysis

First Grand Tour Win for Ciolek
Ciolek wins sprint ahead of Sabatini, Cancellara remains race leader

To no one's surprise, today's stage of the Vuelta a España finished with a bunch sprint in Emmen. Gerald Ciolek, the 22 year old sprinter from Team Milram, celebrated his first ever grand tour stage victory. Wet weather and technical roads made for difficult racing, despite the flat course. Fabio Sabatini of Liquigas-Doimo finished second, Roger Hammond of Cervélo TestTeam was third. Fabian Cancellara remains the race leader, though Ciolek is now only 8 seconds behind the Saxo Bank rider.

Five riders escaped early in the stage and survived until inside 15 kilometers to go. The break included: Tom Leezer of Rabobank, Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoleil, Dominik Roels of Team Milram, Francisco Jose Martinez Perez of Andalucia-Cajasur, David Garcia da Peña of Xacobeo-Galicia. Milram sent Roels with the break to avoid contributing to the chase during the day's stage. The course included one category 4 climb, the Relus ter Beek. The climb reached a maximum elevation of 15 meters. Dutch rider Tom Leezer took the victory on the massive ascent and now leads the mountains classification. No doubt he enjoyed the podium time in front of his Dutch fans.

Crosswinds and wet weather made for nervy racing throughout the day. Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Doimo called the stage "very difficult," especially when the flat profile seemed to promise and easy day. "Narrow streets, pavé, traffic islands, and roundabouts: it was a course rich with obstacles," he explained. Basso made it through the day unscathed and credited his team-mates with his success. Other general classification riders proved less lucky. Fränk Schleck of Saxo Bank got caught behind a crash with 30 kilometers to race and had to chase. Schleck made it back to the main field, but fell behind a split in the finale. Schleck lost 18 seconds. Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi and Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana also fell behind the split in the field and lost 18 seconds. The other general classification favorites escaped without misfortune.

All the same, the stage followed the familiar pattern for a grand tour sprint stage. Saxo Bank rode tempo on the front for much of the day, until the sprinters' teams took over with around 20 kilometers to race. Inside 15 kilometers to go, Westra made one last desperate bid for freedom, but the field was close behind him. Columbia-HTC fired up their sprint train for André Greipel, while Garmin-Slipstream tried to set up the win for Tyler Farrar. As they approached the final kilometer, Björn Schröder of Team Milram brought Gerald Ciolek up into position. Wind complicated the sprint. Ciolek timed his effort to perfection and won ahead of Fabio Sabatini and Roger Hammond. Tom Boonen went too early, and finished eighth. Despite the big effort from Columbia-HTC, Greipel finished fourth, while Farrar of Garmin-Slipstream finished fifth.

"I have had good legs since the Tour de France, but I was missing a victory. I am very happy that it has finally come," Ciolek commented after the stage. Asked whether he'd like to wear the Golden Jersey of race leader, Ciolek said, "Now that I have won a stage, maybe I can play for the Golden Jersey in the coming days." "I am going to give it 100%," he declared. Ciolek called the sprint chaotic. "I started my sprint very late," he said. Because of the wind, "this was the right choice, and I succeeded in maintaining a very small advantage, which was enough to win," Ciolek explained.

For his part, Fabian Cancellara was happy to hold the Gold Jersey for another day. ""It was a very hectic and typically northern European stage," Cancellara said at the finish. The race leader cited "wind, narrow roads and a long stretch of cobblestone" among the difficulties during the stage. "I had actually expected Farrar or Boonen to gain enough seconds to take the jersey from me today. But they didn't, and I am very happy for another day in the leader's jersey," he concluded.

Tomorrow's stage runs between Zutphen and Venlo and the flat profile should make it another day for the sprinters. To read more about stage 3, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

Stage 2: Assen - Emmen

Terrain Type: Flat. A day for the sprinters!
GC Importance: Nothing to see here.

The Vuelta remains in the Netherlands for this second stage of the race. The stage follows a mostly flat course over 202 kilometers between Assen and Emmen. There is one small climb on the profile, but the stage should follow the usual release-and-catch pattern of a sprint stage. This Vuelta has assembled a strong sprint field and we can expect a fast, competitive finish in Emmen.

Assen is the capital of the Dutch province of Drenthe. The city dates from the 13th century and originated as a monastery town. Since the end of the Second World War, Assen has grown significantly and serves as a center of administration and industry. The city is also known for its bike friendly ways.

From Assen, the course heads southeast to the finish in Emmen, which sits not far from the border between the Netherlands and Germany. Emmen also developed in the postwar period where previously the small farms and peat-harvesting villages dotted the landscape. Despite its relatively recent development, Emmen boasts a church dating from the Middle Ages. It is the second most populous city in Drenthe and looks like a lovely spot for a bike ride and a post-bike ride beer.

Profile Details

The terrain is mostly flat, but there is one categorized climb during the stage to tempt the breakaway riders to try their chances. The category 4 Cota de Witteveen reaches a maximum elevation of 30 meters and will give one of the smaller teams a chance to take the mountains jersey for the day and a little podium time. The climb comes early in the stage, and the majority of the course is flat. The sprinters’ teams will have no difficulty controlling the proceedings.

Who To Watch

Despite its mountainous profile, the Vuelta has attracted a deep field of sprinters this year. Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Slipstream comes to the Vuelta fresh off a win at the Vattenfall Cyclassics. The Hamburg semi-classic marked Farrar’s first major professional victory after he achieved a succession of top three finishes in the sprints at the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. Farrar holds the distinction of beating Mark Cavendish of Columbia-HTC earlier this season, though the American proved unable to repeat that feat. In the absence of Cavendish, Farrar should open his grand tour stage win account at this Vuelta.

Tom Boonen, meanwhile, comes to the Vuelta after a quiet middle season. The Belgian began the season well by winning Paris-Roubaix for the third time, one shy of the record held by Roger de Vlaeminck. He also won the Belgian semi-classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne for the second time in his career. Things went off the rails for Boonen after he ran afoul with the Flemish anti-doping authorities, who claimed to have found evidence of cocaine use in an out-of-competition test. Though Boonen rode the Tour de France, the authorities made the decision to let him ride late in the game and he seemed under-prepared for the French grand tour. Boonen has a nice turn of speed, and has won the prestigious Champs Élysées sprint and the Green Jersey at the Tour de France. In recent seasons, the Belgian National Champion has taken less interest in winning bunch sprints, but certainly, he should not be overlooked at this Vuelta, especially after he won a stage of the recent Eneco Tour. His Quick-Step team is also bringing the experienced Marco Velo to serve as a lead-out.

Daniele Bennati of Liquigas-Doimo, meanwhile, has lost much of this season to injury. Though he rode the Tour, he did not figure in the sprints and rides this Vuelta a España to salvage a disappointing season. When he is on form, Bennati is one of the top sprinters in the sport. In 2007, the Italian won the three stages and the points jersey at the Vuelta, and in 2008, Bennati won three stages and the points jersey at the Giro d’Italia and a stage at the Vuelta. Perhaps his legs have finally come around and we will see him at his best during this Vuelta. Liquigas-Doimo will divide their energies between supporting Bennati in the sprints and Ivan Basso in the general classification.

Oscar Freire has three world championships to his credit, equalling the record which he shares with Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen, and Eddy Merckx. This season has proven a quiet one for the Spanish sprinter at Rabobank. Freire has recorded two wins, both of which came at the Tour de Romandie. The past two seasons, Freire has found success at the Vuelta and he won three stages in 2007 and one in 2008. With the stacked field, the wins will not come easy during this year’s Vuelta, but it would be a surprise to see Freire go home empty handed.

André Greipel is the Other Sprinter at Columbia-HTC. While most associate the American team with Mark Cavendish, Greipel has spent the season quietly amassing a stack of wins. For Greipel, the Vuelta marks his first grand tour of the season. Last year, he won a stage of the Giro d’Italia when he rode as lead-out to Mark Cavendish and kept going to the line. In the meantime, he has won three stages each at the Bayern Rundfahrt, Ster Elektrotoer, and the Tour of Austria. He also won the Philadelphia International Championship in the U.S. The German is not as experienced in the grand tour sprints as some of his rivals, but certainly has a nice turn of speed.

Staying with the German theme for a moment, Gerald Ciolek is a former U23 World Champion and won the elite National Championship in Germany at age eighteen. The 22 year old, who rides for Team Milram, finished third in the recent Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg. His highest finish in a grand tour bunch sprint is second, a result he achieved during last year’s Tour de France. So far, Ciolek’s only victory this season has come at the Trofeo Calvia, but at age 22, he has time. A stage win would be a big result for Ciolek and his Milram team, who will also support Linus Gerdemann in the general classification battle. All the same, the young German looks like a bit of an outsider for a stage win in this field.

Last, but certainly not least, Danish sprinter Matti Breschel will represent Saxo Bank in the final kilometer. The current Danish National Champion, Breschel won the Madrid stage of the Vuelta last season before going on to a podium finish at the World Championship in Varese. This season, Breschel counts five victories to his credit and recently finished second behind Farrar at the Vattenfall Cyclassics race. Clearly on good form, Breschel is among the favorites to take home a stage win from the Vuelta.

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->