Three months after a bad training crash put paid to his chances of riding the Tour de France, Belgium’s Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) continued to set his season straight in Spain with a second transition stage win in the Vuelta a España.
Wellens crashed badly the week before the Tour de France when on a training ride, injuring a shoulder, elbow and knee. Although he returned to racing in the Tour of Luxembourg, placing a promising fourth overall, his Ardennes Classics campaign did not go to plan either.
But having headed to the Vuelta a España start immediately after riding the Tour of Flanders and with just 48 hours between the two events, south of the Pyrenees Wellens has twice hit the jackpot.
First he captured a solo stage win in the first week in Sabiñanigo, after breaking away from a three-man move, and then by out-sprinting Mike Woods (EF Pro Cycling) on Wednesday as the two strongest riders from a seven man group duked it out on a tricky uphill finish in Ourense.
As Woods also told Cyclingnews, Wellens commented afterwards that the break had been an exceptionally strong one, with riders of the calibre of the EF racer, former Paris-Nice winner Marc Soler (Movistar), Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and top domestique Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) all in the move. Promising youngster Thymen Arensman (Sunweb), already third behind Wellens in the first week, was also present.
"I was very concentrated all day, and I knew I didn't want Van Baarle or Arensman to get away," Wellens said, "because I was pretty sure they weren't going to be so suited for trying something in an uphill finish like that."
As for the complex final battle for the victory, which started on a third category some 20 kilometres from the line and which continued on the ten kilometres of flat which followed and all the way onto the final, kilometre long uphill finish, Wellens confirmed it had been challenging - but clearly not impossible - to come out on top.
All my companions in the breakaway were really strong riders, so the whole day we rode a super-good tempo," the 29-year-old all-rounder recalled.
"On the descent [off the third category] three of us," himself, Soler and Stybar, "got away and I thought it would stay away, but the other guys," including Woods, "came back."
Wellens added that had the finish line, at the summit of a tricky, curving, uphill climb into the suburbs of Ourense, been but a little bit further on, he would probably have lost the race to Woods.
"I knew I had to get into the last corner first, because it was a very special sprint for the finish, right on the corner itself. I was pleased that the corner was where it was, because I think Woods would have got past me otherwise."
After a solid start to 2020, with a fifth place in the Tour of the Algarve overall, had been curtailed by the lockdown, Wellens said taking two victories in the Vuelta after an otherwise winless season had changed his perspective on the year altogether.
"It's been a very tough season for me, a very complicated one, the Tour was a very big objective and then I crashed and got sick just before it, so it was very good for me to come back here," Wellens said.
"I've never done the Vuelta before but I can only say that it's become a very special race for me, very quickly."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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