A painful leg injury did not stop John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) from adding a third 2014 Vuelta a España stage win to his palmares, in the same city, Logroño, and the same finish where he triumphed two years ago.
Degenkolb had a bad crash on stage 7, and as he powered to the line, the gauze and the bandages where the skin had been ripped off his right calf by his fall, was clearly visible.
However, a faultless leadout helped ensure that even though Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) made a powerful attempt to claw back lost ground, Degenkolb was already ahead when he launched his sprint. And his own stready acceleration netted the German his eighth Vuelta win of his career, his third win of the 2014 race, and his second on Logroño’s tree-lined central boulevard, the Avenida de la Paz, too.
“This is every bit as good as two years ago, a relief because everyone expected me to win,” Degenkolb said afterwards. “I didn’t feel 100 per cent confident because of my injury, I felt I had lower power and expected to miss some of my usual punch.
“But I got the perfect leadout and that gave me a big advantage against the other guys. It worked perfectly.”
Whilst Degenkolb has already been in the wars in the Vuelta with his stage 7 fall, he did not, he said, see or get caught up the last kilometre crash that wrecked the chances of several of his fellow sprinters in Thursday’s mass charge for the line.
“I heard the noise behind me and I thought ‘that’s not good’, but I didn’t look back. I just hope nobody was injured.
“The last kilometre was very hectic, on a race like this almost nobody feels motivated to try to attack and so everybody is fresh and wants to be on the front. But not everybody can be on the front. Every road has its limits.”
Degenkolb knows the pain that crashes can bring only too well. “A lot of skin came off in the crash and [I'm handling] a small infection, it takes up a lot of energy.
“You don’t feel comfortable on the bike, you can’t shower properly or sleep well. Cycling is a nice sport and it’s great to be in a race like the Vuelta, but a crash like that - it feels like hell sometimes.”
As well as being the most prolific stage winner in the Vuelta so far - one more than fellow sprinter Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) - Degenkolb is also 34 points clear of the Frenchman on the points classification. Yet even if he has a 48-point advantage over the closest overall classification contender, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Degenkolb remains wary of his chances of becoming the first sprinter to win the Vuelta’s points jersey since Mark Cavendish in 2010.
“Two years ago, I won five stages and didn’t win the green jersey, so it’s hard to say if I can this time round. A lot depends on how the GC riders fight for the stage wins in the mountains or whether they let breaks go,” he reasoned. On paper, of the nine stages remaining, there are at the maximum three sprint stages left.
So what is left for Degenkolb in the Vuelta? “A lot of pain,” he said with a smile. “No, I want to help Warren [Barguil, Giant-Shimano's overall contender] as best I can, but I’m expecting a lot of pain, too, in the next few days, although it’s a long way to the next rest day and even further to Santiago.”
After which come the World Championships, where Degenkolb will be taking part in the team time trial and the road-race. “If I have the feeling I can do so, I definitely want to finish the Vuelta. But those two races, too, are big goals.”