After a cunning victory in Tirreno-Adriatico, a similarly well-calculated last-minute attack by Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) enabled the Briton to claim the stage 3 win ahead of the teeth of the peloton in the Vuelta al País Vasco on Wednesday.
Cummings tore out of the pack on the run-in to Lesaka with about 600 metres to go, and though the peloton was snapping at his heels all the way to finish, he managed to stay away to the line for victory. It was also a welcome win for Dimension Data after their narrow miss in the Scheldeprijs, where Mark Cavendish lost to Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep).
Having celebrated on the podium wearing the traditional, huge Basque beret that is given to stage winners in the race - “I’ve always wanted one of those,” he said afterwards with a grin - Cummings told a small group of reporters that “it was a really important win. This race means a lot to the people here, because it’s so difficult. It’s great to win here because the level’s so high.”
As Cummings observed, the intensity of the racing in the Basque Country, is something very special indeed. Barely a metre of flat, frequently tough weather, a starstudded line-up, and tricky finishes - not to mention the usual large numbers of fans on every one of the hilltops to help keep your adrenalin high - all make getting through the six-day race, let alone winning, an exceptionally demanding experience.
“There are no easy days here, every day is difficult,” Cummings observed. “You talk about it in the peloton, everybody has sore legs, it’s hard terrain, hard weather, it doesn’t get much harder.”
Still, when it came to seeing where a stage win could best be captured, Cummings had definitely done his homework, and sharing a hotel room with local rider Igor Anton, he said, helped a great deal in the preparation process.
“I ask him all the time, every minute, 'what’s this road like, what’s that road like?' It’s been very good to have two guys in the team,” - Anton and Omar Fraile - “because it’s important to know what’s coming up, they’ve been a great help.”
As for the actual stage win, Cummings said he had had a similar experience to stage 1, where he suffered on the last climb immediately before making a dig in the closing kilometers before the finish, but then in this case, his final breakaway paid off well.
“It’s the same kind of scenario, I can’t really move on the climb ‘cos I haven’t got the legs so I’m just hanging and from that moment to the final you’re always looking for an opportunity, a slowing or a rise.”
“Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always worth a little try, otherwise you sit there and get twentieth.”