Briton takes first Grand Tour stage win with well-timed late attack
After breaking his pelvis in the Tour of the Algarve in February, his left wrist in the Tour of the Basque Country and having heavy crashes both in the Tour of California and in the Tour de France, it was definitely time that something went right for British pro Steve Cummings (BMC) - and on stage 13 of the Vuelta a España’s, a day that many thought would end up as a bunch sprint, the stars finally lined up for the 31-year-old from the Wirral.
Cummings made one big charge up the road with around four kilometres to go, and the former GB team pursuiter made it count, powering into the headwind with a vengeance for a victory that was a tribute to his tenacity throughout the season. He also managed to beat two riders from the same team, Vuelta first week stage winner Simon Clarke and Cameron Meyer (both Orica-GreenEdge) as well as Sky’s experienced one-day racer Juan Antonio Flecha.
“They were bigger names than me, so I knew that people would watch them,” said Cummings, whose last win was a stage in the Tour of the Algarve last year.
“It’d been a hard day, and GreenEdge had two riders, and then Flecha attacked into a headwind and I tried to stay on his wheel.”
“I had one attack in me, to win I had to make it at the right moment, and that was the perfect moment to go.”
Quite apart from a victory like today's being a big personal goal, the 31-year-old said that for BMC his solo triumph fitted perfectly with the overall game plan: “The team came here to win stages, and when Phil [Gilbert] won that took the pressure off.
“But I knew that Argos-Shimano wanted a sprint on this stage, so I had to go for it at the start. It was really hard, I had to put in a lot of work to get in a break, but it was a really good one when it happened. The combination was good.”
With Classics riders like Flecha, long-distance breakaway specialists like Thomas De Gendt (Vancansoleil), riders who had already proved their strength in breaks in the 2012 Vuelta like Simon Clarke and strong ex-team pursuiters like Cam Meyer and Cummings, it was a very solid breakaway group.
What did a win as big as this mean to him, Cummings was asked. “Ever since I’ve been a kid I’ve been watching the Grand Tours on TV and I always dreamed of winning a stage in one of them,” he said.
“But opportunities are limited for people who work for the teams, and so to get this, the best victory of my career - I’m very happy.”
To come after such a difficult year made it more special. “I’ve been chasing all year and I crashed badly in the Tour, so when I came here I said I knew if I could get through the first week all right I’d get better.”
“So I want to dedicate this win to my team and my family, everybody who helped me out throughout the year.”
Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) has now had the lead for ten days, but with three big mountain stages coming up he was very guarded about his chances of taking the red jersey all the way to Madrid. Other top names are now saying that after remaining in the lead after the time trial and winning two mountaintop stage finishes, he has the best form of the four big contenders, but Purito doesn’t quite see it like that.
“I wouldn’t describe myself as top favourite,” Rodriguez said. “Look at my lead, it’s just 13 seconds. If I’m still in the lead after the next three stages, though, that’ll be another story.”