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Welcome back, as the third stage of the Vuelta a Espana takes us through the Netherlands again, with a short visit to Germany. Still no sign of Spain in the race so far – but we'll see it in a few days.
Today's stage starts in Zutphen and then goes for a little loop eastward and then back to Zutphen. From there we head south to dip our toes in German for 30 km or so before heading back west over the border, and then south again to our finish in Venlo.
Yesterday's escape group got away three km into the stage. The riders were more impatient today and got away after only two kms. We have a Dutch duo and a Spaniard today: Lars Boom (Rabobank), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoliel), and Jesus Rosendo (Andalucia-Cajasur). They took off, the peloton took it easy, and the gap zoomed to a maximum of 9:42 at only km 28.
That was enough for Saxo Bank, which took charge of the chase. The lead held steady for a while, but as the leading trio finished the opening loop and started heading south, the gap had dropped to 8:05.
The weather is a little nicer today, sunny and 23° Celsius at the sign-in. It could get up to a toasty 28° Celsius at the finish. And all 198 riders started today. Lots of crashes yesterday, but fortunately no injuries.
Today's stage has been shortened, by the way, from 189 km to 185. We don't know where those four kms disappeared to.
Gerald Ciolek was happy to win yesterday, but possibly happier than the rider was his team manager. Gerry van Gerwen is, of course, Dutch, and he was beside himself to have his team win a Vuelta stage in the Netherlands. "That is the kind of day that makes you really proud!" he told us, as you can read here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/milram-manager-thrilled-with-vuelta-stage-win
We are cruising along at an average speed of 40 km/h here in the 27° Celsius weather. The gap is holding steady at 8:20.
Who are these three riders? Lars Boom – or to give him his full name, Lars Anthonius Johannes Boom – is all of 23 years old and comes from the 'cross world, He was Dutch cyclo-cross champion as a junior in 2001, 2002 and 2003, taking the world title that final year. He moved up to U23 in 2004, taking the national title from 2004 to 2007. In 2007 he won the World U-23 title and then went on to show his qualities on the road, winning the Dutch and World U-23 time trial titles.
That's not enough? Ok, then last year he was Dutch and World 'cross champion, and won two stages in the Olympia's Tour on his way to the overall title. He won a stage and the overall title in the Volta a Lleida, three stages in the in the Circuito Montanes and one in the Vuelta Ciclista a Leon, plus two World Cup 'cross races. Oh yes, and he also picked up both the Dutch time trial and road titles.
Is there anything he can't do? So far this year he has won the Tour of Belgium and the Dutch 'cross title.
It's lunchtime now for the three escapees, who will soon be riding on German soil. Well, actually, on German roads.
Hoogerland (Vacansoliel) is 26 years old. He turned pro in 2003 with the Quick Step developmental team, and has never made it up to the ProTour. Still, he has a few wins to his credit. This year, for example, he won a stage and the overall title in the Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen.
Rosendo is 27, and comes from Seville. The Andalucia-Cajasur rider made quite an impression in the Vuelta last year on quite different terrain: he was the first to wear the KOM jersey in this race in 2008, holding on to it for five stages.
Herzlich Willkommen in Deutschland! The Vuelta has now entered Germany, and the leading trio still has a gap of 7:52.
So who is leading which category here? Fabian Cancellara still has the leader's golden jersey. Tom Boonen has the blue jersey for the points ranking, with Tyler Farrar second with the same number of points. The orange KOM jersey is with Rabobank's Tom Leezer. The other jersey here is the white jersey for the combination classification. The leader there is Cancellara, followed by Boonen. Both of them have other special jerseys to wear, so it is being worn by Ciolek, who is third.
And Liquigas leads the team rankings.
Andre Greipel of Columbia says that yesterday's stage was made more difficult by road conditions yesterday. Writing on radsport-news.com, the sprinter said that the stage was dangerous because of the many traffic islands, curves and huge numbers of people on the street.
That's not why he didn't win, though. Greipel said that he waited too long because of the head wind, and got boxed in. He congratulated Ciolek and Milram on a well-deserved win.
The gap continues to creep down, to 7:32, as Quick Step and Garmin join forces to lead the peloton. The temperatures are creeping the other way, though, and it is already 28° Celsius.
The first KOM jersey of the Vuelta a Espana goes to a Dutch sprinter. Makes a lot of sense, right? Tom Leezer of Rabobank was in the escape group Sunday, and admits, “the climb today was one my specialities!” More seriously, he knows it was a lucky coincidence, but he is certainly happy enough to wear the special jersey for two stages. There are no ranked climbs today, so he will safely hold on to the title for another day.
The combined Quick Step-Garmin efforts are working, as the lead has now plummeted to 5:28.
Lieuwe Westra had hoped to win the stage yesterday to honour the memory of his father, who died last week. He was the last of a group of five to be caught by the peloton after a long break. “Too bad it ultimately failed,” he said. “Still I'm satisfied.” He knew, too, that “My father would have been proud of me.”
Milram has moved up to help with the lead work and the gap continues to come down, to 4:24.
As we learned yesterday, the stage winner gets a 20 second time bonus. So looking at the overall standings and expecting another mass sprint finish today, we can reasonably expect a new leader this evening. Those within striking distance of Cancellara are: Gerald Ciolek (Milram), Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream), Jens Mouris (Vacansoleil), Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), David Garcia (Xacobeo Galicia), Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Bert Grabsch (Columbia-HTC), and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto).
They are all within 19 seconds of Cancellara, but there are certainly some names in there which we do not expect to see in a mass sprint.
The gap continues to get smaller, only 3:52 now.
Astana's Jesus Hernandez went down twice in yesterday's stage, arriving at the finish with tattered shorts. The first crash, at a roundabout, was his won fault, he admitted. “The second one was just before we entered the bad cobblestone section near the end. Some guys started to brake too hard and others couldn't respond and hit the others. It was a domino effect. I was just one of many that fell. My front wheel is completely broken, but I am ok, I hope.”
It is a sunny day, but the three leaders are currently enjoying the cooler shade of a wooded section.
We have a birthday boy in the peloton today! Matti Breschel of Saxo Bank is turning 25. We wish him all the best.
The leaders have crossed the border again and returned to the Netherlands with a lead of only 3:09.
Wouter Weylandt of Quick Step is having a hard time of it. He spent most of Saturday night in the bathroom, and was running a fever. He kept on in the race, though.
Quick Step, Garmin and Milram are at the head of the field, followed closely by representatives from Columbia and Liquigas.
Columbia's Frantisek Rabon is currently at the very tail end of the peloton.
The Dutch are big cycling fans and they have proved it the last two days. 40,000 turned out on Saturday to watch the prologue, and it was estimated that 200,000 were along the road for Sunday's stage. And once again today we see lots of fans out.
Even the riders are surprised and pleased with the massive turnout. "Saturday I experienced how football players must feel when they play in a full stadium," said Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
The gap has grown slightly but is still under four minutes.
Roger Hammond of Cervelo TestTeam finished third in Sunday's sprint, and thinks he could have done better – if he had only known where the finish line was. “There are so many banners, bridges and signs, I couldn’t see the finish banner, and when I saw it, it was only 50 meters to go!” the Briton said. “I hadn’t even started sprinting. To be honest, I am a bit annoyed, because I had quite a bit more in the legs. By the time I saw the finish, it was too late.”
Saxo Bank's Andy Schleck drops back to the team car and picks up a water bottle or two. Or three.
The three leaders ride by a nursery, with those huge greenhouses that are such a familiar sight here in the Netherlands.
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) finished second in the prologue on Sunday and hoped to take over first place with a win in Sunday's sprint finish. It didn't happen. He opened the sprint too early, he admitted, agreeing with Hammond that it was virtually impossible to know the distance to the finish line.
Hmm, is that allowed? At a left hand turn, a number of riders jumped over the (very large) traffic island. Others cut across the grass, to cut the corner. Some of them came into conflict with the accompanying motorcycles. Let's be careful out there, folks.
The gap is down again, to 2:58.
Gerald Ciolek was very happy with his first Grand Tour win yesterday, and is now making eyes at the gold leader's jersey now adorning Cancellara's shoulders. Read more here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/ciolek-wants-vuelta-leaders-jersey-after-stage-win
Gerald Ciolek is fairly far back in the field right now, with a teammate at his side, of course.
The pace going into yesterday's closing sprint was so high that the peloton split and a number of big-name riders lost some time on the overall. 18 seconds back were, amongst others, Damiano Cunego, Alexander Vinokourov, Samuel Sanchez, Linus Gerdemann and Fränk Schleck.
The gap has dropped to under two minutes for the first time. The three leaders are being "shadowed" by three riders on the bike path.
Andre Greipel is once again near the back of the peloton. Perhaps he should think of moving up a bit?
We are used to seeing the orange jerseys of Garmin and Rabobank near the front, but it is a surprise to now see the all-orange Euskaltel jerseys there, too.
Cancellara called Sunday's race “a very hectic and typically northern European stage. Wind, narrow roads and a long stretch of cobblestone, which naturally was an additional stress factor for many riders.”
Hoogerland sprints to catch the points at the last intermediate sprint of the day.
It won't be long now, the gap is just over a minute.
It is down to 38 seconds now. Will the three leaders fight to stay away, or sit up and let the peloton catch them?
The three have decided to give up their efforts, and are now just riding more comfortably and waiting for the group to catch them.
No, they aren't! Boom attacks and the other two go with him.
Boom won't give up. He leads the whole time now, and keeps looking back to his two companions, as if to urge them on.
Rosendo attacks, and Hoogerland goes with him. Boom says the heck with it and waits for the peloton.
The two leaders chat and look back to see where the peloton is.
Boom is now back in the peloton and Hoogerland has stopped trying. Rosendo isn't willing to give up and keeps on going.
Now Hoogerland is back in the field, too.
Rosendo keeps on going and giving it his best. He has about 40 seconds.
The peloton will probably let Rosendo dangle for a few more kms before it gets down to business.
The peloton is passing by a large number of huge greenhouses. Just think of the yummy vegetables and pretty flowers inside!
Cancellara grins and talks on his race radio. Does he expect to hold on to his gold jersey after this stage?
38 seconds for Rosendo.
Valverde is near the front of the group and waves happily. He is no doubt very happy to be in a Grand Tour this year.
18 km and about 20 seconds.
Chris Horner either crashed or had to put his foot down at a tight corner. Michael Schär helps him get going again. A few metres later a Garmin rider stops for a mechanical. Oops, it was Tyler Farrar. Two teammates are there to help him come back, but this was very bad timing.
Farrar is back in the peloton, but now has to get all the way back up and still be fresh enough to sprint. Oops, now Julian Dean has a mechanical and has fallen back.
Dean must make his own way forward. Will he be able to prepare a sprint for Farrar? Now he has a teammate with him.
Rosendo doggedly holds on to his slight lead.
Dean has caught the peloton now, but must move all the way up to the front as well.
Columbia moves up near the front for the first time. Marcel Sieberg is easy to pick out, as he is so tall. He will look to set up the sprint for Andre Greipel, his good friend and neighbor.
The peloton has picked up the speed now. Time to start getting serious.
We see the familiar picture of Quick Step and Garmin at the head of the peloton, with Columbia and Liquigas not far behind.
The sprinters' teams are starting to look around now -- who is where, who is doing what...
Oops, it looks like Rosendo was caught back with 12 km to go. Sorry, we missed that.
Lots of traffic islands again today, which the riders don't appreciate.
Garmin continues to lead the field, with the tempo now quite high.
Now Quick Step forces its way up and forces the tempo even higher.
Columbia has now moved to the head.
Quick Step, Garmin, Columbia...
Columbia has moved into Quick Step's train.
Vacansoliel opens the sprint.
Greipel shoots forward and takes the win!
Not Greipel! It was Greg Henderson who took the win!
So it was the helper Henderson who won the stage, with Borut Bozic of Vacansoliel second, Freire third and Greipel fourth.
Cancellara holds on to his leader's jersey, as Henderson has shoved his way up into second place, by 6 seconds. Ciolek is now third and Boonen slips down to fourth.
That was it for today! We had the expected mass sprint, but certainly not the expected winner. Join us again tomorrow as head down into Belgium, and thanks for reading along today.