Lobato bounces back from crash to take Vuelta a Andalucia stage win

There was a definite air of homecoming for Juan Jose Lobato when the Movistar rider clinched a long-sought-after stage win in Lucena in the Vuelta a Andalucia.

Born in the nearby Andalucian region of Cadiz, the Spanish sprinter had finally netted a stage in his home race, four years after his nearest miss, a second place on stage 3 of the 2011 race. Small wonder that the large crowd in front of the winner’s podium, amongst them his girlfriend Ana, cheered the local hero loudly as he held his arms aloft for the stage win.

Lobato’s career path to date has not been straightforward, and Spain’s ongoing sponsorship crisis has a lot to do with it. Having ridden for the now-defunct Andalucia-Caja Granada Pro Continental squad at both amateur and professional levels, when his local team folded in 2012, Lobato signed for Euskaltel-Euskadi. At the end of 2013, the Basque ProTour squad also disintegrated as the sponsors pulled out, and a once again teamless Lobato was snapped up, this time by Movistar for 2014.

After four years of taking minor victories and placings in races like the GP Getxo (twice) or stages of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Lobato punched well above his expected weight in his new team, his standout result being fourth in Milan-San Remo, by far his best Monuments result to date. Other notable results for the 25-year-old included stages in the Vuelta a Burgos and Tour of Wallonie.

This season, Lobato has hit the ground running, first netting a stage on the other side of the world in the Tour Down Under and now another win in his home race - after Javi Moreno’s time trial win, it's Movistar’s second win in as many days. He won in spectacular style, too, accelerating 300 metres from the line and weaving through the pack at high speed to go well clear of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin), who had already said he was impressed by the Spaniard in Australia.

It's no coincidence, either, that both his 2015 victories have been on long, draggy uphills, although Lobato told reporters in Andalucia, "this time round it wasn't such a difficult climb as Australia. It was pretty much the same strategy, though." In Andalucia, too, a third category climb just before the sprint had reduced the front group by around a third.

"Today was a day I had marked with an X in the route book, and it worked out fine. We've got a strong team for the mountain stages, but this was my big chance."

Lobato's victory also made up for crashing on stage 1 and missing out of the sprint, "where I was in good shape physically, I just wasn't lucky. I knew, though, there were more days to come." He will have a final opportunity on stage 5 on Sunday.

"It wasn't too hard to calculate, the Tour Down Under sprint was a bit longer and harder, but this was similar. I've always done well on these uphill sprints."

Movistar's next objective will be to try to continue their run of successive overall wins in Andalucia - already standing at three in as many years - with a crack at the GC for Beñat Intxausti. Following a strong time trial, the former Giro d'Italia leader and Tour of Beijing winner currently lies second overall, just one second behind Alberto Contador, and may well be able to profit from the high-profile sporting rivalry between the Spaniard and Chris Froome.

As for Lobato, stage 5's rolling 169-kilometre race from Montilla to Alhaurin de la Torre will offer a second chance for him to have a crack at victory on home soil, particularly as it runs though hilly terrain that could see some sprinters lose their support riders, as well as an uphill finish.

"Lucena and Alhaurin are better stages for me than the first stage [on Wednesday] because not all the lead-out men for the other sprinters will manage to make it to the finishes," he told biciclismo.com on Tuesday before the Vuelta a Andalucia start.

"San Remo is the big goal of the season, though. I'm training for it and I hope to be in good shape. The finale, too, suits me better, getting rid of that last zigzag in the final kilometer," he said. After that, Lobato will head for Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders prior to his first-ever Giro d'Italia.

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