John Degenkolb's biggest win of his career to date came just two days into his second-ever Grand Tour, as he powered up the slight rise that concluded Sunday's bunch sprint stage of the Vuelta a Espana, just ahead of a clearly frustrated Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEdge). It is the second time Degenkolb is racing the Vuelta; his first time was in 2011.
Degenkolb, 23, said that the sprint's uphill element meant that it was "not a normal one, you needed a lot of power for those last rising 400 or 500 metres, and that's exactly what I need to win a stage."
"They were pretty fast, flat roads in the last few kilometres and a few teams tried to organise a sprint train, particularly GreenEdge. But my guys brought me back to the top spots. [Argos-Shimano teammate] Koen de Kort dropped me off in the perfect position right on Allan Davis' and Ben Swift's wheels, and then I did the rest of the job myself."
Degenkolb was delighted because the pressure is now off his team - a ProConti squad invited to the race. The team won a sprint stage last year with Marcel Kittel. "We wanted a minimum of one stage from this race, and we've got it almost as soon as possible. There are two hard mountain stages now [stages 3 and 4], but after that we'll try to win some more on the flat stages before the first rest day."
"In any case, this is a team win. It's almost impossible to win a stage alone as a sprinter. Not just in the last five kilometres, they have to keep you close to the front all the way through. This team is one of the best support squads in the world. It works very well together as we've seen countless times with Kittel, too."
Asked if he felt disappointed that he had not taken part in the Tour de France after his teammate Kittel had fallen ill and been forced to abandon, Degenkolb responded slightly sharply, "I'm not disappointed about that, just that I'm sorry that he could not make it through. Hopefully we'll both be at the Tour next year and we can have a good party there." For now, in any case, Degenkolb has his own reasons to celebrate in the Vuelta.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.