Domenico Pozzovivo's hopes of a high overall finish at the Vuelta a España were dealt a blow when he crashed just outside the final three kilometres of stage 4 in Tarragona. Although the Italian managed to remount and complete the stage, he lost 3:25 and drops to 33rd overall, 4:08 behind leader Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Pozzovivo picked up an injury to his left hand in the fall, but was unable to undergo an x-ray on Tuesday evening. The Italian told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he will start Wednesday's stage from Benicassim to Alcossebre.
"I'm quite bashed, my left hand is a worry," Pozzovivo said. "I don't know what one of the Manzana team was doing, but he moved left all of a sudden and he brought me down at 60kph. There was no reason for the manoeuvre."
Pozzovivo's crash came on the same day that his long-touted transfer to Bahrain-Merida was finally confirmed. The 34-year-old will join the team in 2018 as part of its campaign to reinforce the supporting cast around Vincenzo Nibali in the Grand Tours.
"AG2R gave me the chance to ride in the WorldTour, I can only thank them. I also learned how to be a leader in a big team," Pozzovivo told La Gazzetta of his five years at AG2R La Mondiale. "UAE Emirates was the first team to look for me but one day while I was training with Nibali [in Lugano] we started chatting. It was a spontaneous thing. I'll have my own space, but I'll also give a hand to Vincenzo in the races that suit him. And to think we used to be rivals when we were young…"
Froome's presence in sprint a distraction for Debusschere
Chris Froome (Team Sky) defended his red jersey by placing 17th on stage 4 of the Vuelta a España, but his presence at the front of the peloton in the closing kilometres was not entirely appreciated by the fast men readying themselves for the inevitable bunch sprint in Tarragona.
Jens Debusschere (Lotto Soudal) was fifth across the line behind winner Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), but said afterwards that he almost came a cropper due to a manoeuvre from Froome in the finale.
"I was ready to start my sprint, but Chris Froome suddenly came under me. He almost fell and I would have gone down too," Debusschere told Het Laatste Nieuws. "I have a lot of respect for Froome, but you don't do that. It was a very dangerous manoeuvre. He didn't want to fall or make me fall, but what is a GC rider doing up there?"
Froome was safely inside the final 3 kilometres by the time of the incident, and would have received the same time as the peloton in the event of a crash or mechanical problem, but the red jersey pointed out that he still risked losing ground in the event of a split. He said that the issue was less relevant at the Tour de France, where the commissaires only awarded separate times in the event of gaps of three seconds or more.
"I believe it makes the race at the front a lot safer," Froome said of the so-called three-second rule, which is not being enacted at the Vuelta. "No one wants the GC guys to be up there sprinting. The sprinters don't want us up there. We don't want to be there, but obviously we have to be up there."
Reijnen and Bernard extend with Trek-Segafredo
The 31-year-old Reijnen made the step up to WorldTour level last season after a career spent on American teams. He marked his debut season at Trek by winning a stage of the Tour of Utah and completing his first Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España. Reijnen performed strongly at the recent Colorado Classic and is currently in action at the Tour du Poitou-Charentes.
"Trek-Segafredo has been an even better fit than I could have hoped for," Reijnen said. "From the first team camp to my first Grand Tour, the team has been supportive in helping me find my place in the peloton. I'm looking forward to another two years shredding the curves, bumping shoulders in the sprints, and leaving it all out on the road with my teammates."
A solid climber, Bernard has been steadily accumulating his experience over his two seasons at Trek-Segafredo. The 25-year-old made his Grand Tour debut at the 2016 Vuelta, placed 42nd overall at this year's Giro d'Italia, and is currently in action at the Vuelta in support of Alberto Contador.
The son of the former professional Jean-François Bernard, the Frenchman forced his way into consideration for the Vuelta team due to his form at the recent Colorado Classic, where he placed 18th.
"I want to keep learning and improving and will continue to give it my all for the team. At a personal level, for the years to come, I want to become a winner," Bernard said. "I am convinced I can win races and to prove that by winning at least one, but hopefully doing more races will be one of my main goals for the years to come."
The extensions of both Reijnen and Bernard were welcomed by Trek-Segafredo manager Luca Guercilena. "Julien has made an impressive progression since he joined the team two years ago as a stagiaire," Guercilena said. "Initially, it wasn't on the plan for him to do both Giro and Vuelta, but he showed excellent form in the Colorado Classic and came to the start in Nîmes highly motivated and ready to work hard for the team."
On-form Viviani turns thoughts to Bergen Worlds
Elia Viviani (Team Sky) continued his fine recent run of form by beating Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in a bunch sprint to win the opening stage of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes in Saintes on Tuesday. The Italian won the EuroEyes Cyclassics Hamburg at the weekend and placed second behind Alexander Kristoff at the recent European Championships road race in Herning.
Viviani opened his sprint from distance on Tuesday, and had the strength to keep his gear turning over and hold off Bouhanni and Danilo Napolitano (Wanty-Groupe Gobert). "When I came off Bouhanni's wheel, I was worried that I'd gone too early," Viviani told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “But I was right: the descent before the finishing straight launched me well, and then I put in in the 12 and I kept the speed high."
Viviani will swap Sky for Quick-Step Floors in 2018, and he although he is unsure of his precise racing programme from here until the end of the current season, he is hopeful of ensuring his place in Italian coach Davide Cassani's team for the World Championships in Bergen.
"I'd love to ride in Bergen. You know that, and so does Davide. It's true that this Worlds course isn't made for us sprinters like Doha last year, but I think a Viviani in this condition can be useful to the cause," said Viviani, who is pencilled in to ride the GP Plouay at the weekend, though Danny van Poppel will be Sky's designated sprinter.
"Obviously I want to take advantage of this moment as best I can, although I don't know what races I'm doing after the Tour du Poitou-Charentes yet. Maybe the GP Plouay on Saturday, but it's all to be defined. The Tour of Britain is Sky's home race and thus of enormous importance, so it will be hard to get in the six for the team. A lot will depend on my chances of riding the Worlds."