Post Stage Analysis
Greipel Makes It Three
9 Big Photos from Stage 16 — sirotti
André Greipel took his third stage victory of this year's Vuelta a España in Puertollano. The Vuelta bunch took a bit of a vacation today, and rode a leisurely tempo throughout the stage. With no real climbing to interrupt the tranquility, it was all about waiting for the sprint today. Columbia-HTC rode another near-perfect lead-out for Greipel who won ahead of William Bonnet of Bbox Bouygues Télécom and Daniele Bennati of Liquigas-Doimo. Alejandro Valverde continues to lead the overall classification ahead of Robert Gesink and Samuel Sánchez.
The flat terrain of this stage running from Córdoba to Puertollano discouraged breakaway attempts, and only one brave rider proved willing to play the rabbit today. Jesus Rosendo Prado of Andalucia-Cajasur drew the short straw today, and rode more than 150 kilometers alone ahead of the field. Along the way, he scored massive publicity for his sponsor, Andalucia-Cajasur, and the cash prime for the Solidarity Sprint. Behind Rosendo Prado, the sprinters' teams set a desultory pace across the dry, flat plains. With just one rider out in front, there was no need to hurry. The big teams of the sprinters could easily bring back the lone breakaway at will.
And so it was. With 20 kilometers to go, it was time to do a little bike racing. Under the impetus of Quick Step, Liquigas-Doimo and Milram, the main field had come within 40 seconds of catching Rosendo Prado. Two kilometers later, Jesus Rosendo Prado waved adios and returned to the field after his long day out in front. With the breakaway caught, the sprinters' teams began to ramp up the speed, and soon the bunch strung out single-file as they approached the outskirts of Puertollano.
As they passed under 5 kilometers to go, the sprinters began to jostle for position at the front. Liquigas-Doimo drove hard on the front for their sprinter Daniele Bennati while the mighty Columbia-HTC lurked nearby. Inside 3 kilometers to go, a crash derailed the chances of Garmin-Slipstream sprinter Julian Dean. André Greipel and Gerald Ciolek of Milram jostled for position as Dean tried to come up the right-hand side. There were no barricades separating the Dean from the crowd, but instead of long line of tape. Watching the replay, it appears that Dean swerved to avoid the Greipel-Ciolek fandango just as a spectator extended a camera for a photo. Dean went down, followed by Wouter Weylandt of Quick Step and Roger Hammond of Cervélo TestTeam.
Up front, Columbia-HTC began to wind up their sprint to launch Greipel to the line. Under the red kite, Greg Henderson took the final pull. Daniele Bennati started his sprint on the left-hand side, while Henderson seemed to drop off Greipel a long way from the line. Greipel found Bennati's wheel, and the Italian inadvertently delivered Greipel to his third stage win. William Bonnet of BBox Bouygues Télécom finished second followed by Daniele Bennati of Liquigas-Doimo in third. With today's stage win, Greipel has re-taken the Green Jersey of points leader. The Columbia-HTC sprinter lost the jersey after the grupetto finished outside the time limit on the Sierra Nevada stage. The commissaires allowed the group to continue, but they all lost the equivalent of a stage win in points. The UCI rule book requires the points penalty when the time cut is extended. In any case, that's all in the past now, and Greipel leads the Points Classification after today's win.
In the general classification, the flat stage across the Spanish plains did nothing to change the overall standings. Alejandro Valverde still leads Robert Gesink by :31 seconds, Samuel Sánchez by 1:10, Ivan Basso by 1:28, and Cadel Evans by 1:51. Valverde also leads the Combination classification by 1 point ahead of Robert Gesink. David Moncoutié of Cofidis leads the Mountains Classification.
Tomorrow is another day for the sprinters. The Vuelta continues its northward journey through the central plains of Spain. The stage runs between Cuidad Real and Talavera de la Reina and the profile includes no categorized climbs. The race should follow much the same pattern as today, with a small break going up the road, a relatively liesurely tempo, and a speedy sprint finish. For more on tomorrow's stage, please turn the page.
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Stage 16 Córdoba - Puertollano
Terrain Type: Mostly flat. A day for the sprinters.
The Vuelta a España leaves Andalucia at last with this stage and enters Castilla-La Mancha. The stage departs from Córdoba and passes along the eastern edge of the Sierra Morena mountain range which rises up behind the city. The course tracks north, then turns east to finish in Puertollano. The profile includes two categorized climbs, but neither is especially difficult. After the hard days in the mountains, the general classification riders will enjoy this relatively tranquil day. The day should end in a bunch sprint on the streets of Puertollano.
Puertollano lies directly south of Madrid. The Vuelta travels toward its finale now, though the race loops north before arriving Spain’s capital city on the final day. The name, Puertollano, comes from a mash-up of Puerto meaning mountain pass, and llano meaning flat. A tad oxymoronic, this city name. Archeological digs in the area have uncovered tools and art that date from the Bronze Age. In 1348, the Plague came to Puertollano and only 13 families survived. According to tradition, they prayed to the Virgin Mary for protection, and the annual fiesta del Santo Voto commemorates their survival. Long a mining town, Puertollano is now a center for alternative energy, especially solar technology.
Puertollano has hosted the Vuelta on three occasions since 2005. Alessandro Petacchi, Leonardo Duque, and Daniele Bennati have all won in Puertollano. Perhaps that previous victory will bring Bennati the luck he needs to take home his first stage victory of this year’s race.
The stage begins with a short climb, the Alto de los Villares. Rated a category 3, the Alto de los Villares accounts for the first 6 kilometers of the stage. It gains a total of 360 meters and the average gradient is somewhere in the neighborhood of 5%. The Alto de los Villares should not cause anyone too much difficulty and serves as a nice invitation for the early break to head up the road.
After summitting the Alto de los Villares, the course runs over uneven terrain for the next 35 kilometers. It’s not especially hilly here, and the teams of the sprinters should have no difficulty controlling the gap to the breakaway. The stage skirts the northeastern edge of the Sierra Morena mountains, and rolls through the town of Vilaharta.
Just past Vilaharta comes the second climb of the day, the category 2 Alto de la Chimorra. The alto begins at kilometer 42.1 and climbs for 4.7 kilometers. Short and sweet, the Alto de la Chimorra gains a total of 270 meters. This second climb of the day is on the steeper side with a gradient around 6%, but it’s still a long way to go to the finish. The Alto de la Chimorra summits at kilometer 46.8, and 123.5 kilometers of racing remain. No need to get excited, there's still plenty of time.
A brief descent follows the Alto de la Chimorra, then it’s back to mostly flat terrain. The first intermediate sprint of the day comes at kilometer 71 in Pozoblanco. Pozoblanco lies directly north of Córdoba on the inland side of the Sierra Morena mountains. The course now makes a right turn and continues northeast. Still in mostly flat terrain, the course passes through Torrecampo and there is a short uncategorized climb just outside town at around kilometer 95. After a brief descent, the road climbs nearly imperceptibly for the next 60 kilometers.
At kilometer 160.3, there is a second intermediate sprint. Almodóvar del Campo hosts this second sprint of the day, which comes with 10 kilometers to race. We’re coming down to the finish now, and the sprinters’ teams should be on the front and close to bringing the breakaway back into the fold. From Almodóvar del Campo to the finish in Puertollano, the run-in is flat. There will be nothing to stop the sprinters from having their final kilometer fun.
Who to Watch
An early breakaway from the smaller teams will certainly go up the road today, but their chances of staying away on such a flat stage are not especially good. Columbia-HTC, Quick Step, Liquigas-Doimo, and Rabobank should have this stage well in hand and deliver their sprinters to the line. André Greipel leads the Points competition, though the departure of Tyler Farrar leaves Greipel with a solid hold on the Green Jersey. Tom Boonen, Oscar Freire, and Daniele Bennati are winless so far in this Vuelta a España and will be extra-motivated to get theirs before it’s too late.— Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->