Juan José Lobato (Movistar) continued his fine start to the new season as he scorched to stage victory on the closing day of the Vuelta a Andalucia, while Chris Froome (Team Sky) safely negotiated the technical finale at Alhaurín de la Torre to seal the overall win, two seconds clear of his great rival Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
When the lurid yellow jerseys of Tinkoff-Saxo swarmed towards the front of the peloton in the closing kilometres, Contador seemed poised to attempt one of his famous ambushes in a bid to reverse his defeat to Froome atop the Alto de Allanadas the previous day.
In the event, however, Froome seemed as comfortable as it was possible to be in such nervous circumstances and he avoided any late surprises. He kept Contador within sight through the procession of roundabouts and road furniture on the run-in and stayed close, too, when the road kicked upwards in the final 1500 metres. For good measure, he finished the stage three places ahead of Contador in sixth.
The fireworks in the finale were instead provided by the irrepressible Lobato, who landed his second stage win of the race in the most emphatic of fashions by claiming the scalp of John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and underscoring his status as a dark horse contender for Milan-San Remo.
With 1200 metres remaining, just as the road began to ramp up towards the line, the young Belgian talent Edward Theuns (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) zipped off the front of the peloton with a canny finisseur’s move, and he stoutly defended his advantage deep into the final 500 metres of the stage.
Rather than stand on ceremony, however, Lobato took matters in hand with almost 400 metres remaining, as he ripped clear of the bunch and set off in pursuit of Theuns. He swooped upon the youngster shortly before the crown of the final bend and then swept right by him to open a decisive lead.
Behind, Degenkolb was the only man with the wherewithal to come close to Lobato but he had simply left himself with far too much ground to make up. He finished in second place, but the gap was such that the timekeepers judged he had crossed the line with a deficit of one second to Lobato.
"You can never say you took an easy win, but to be honest, my team-mates made things quite easier for me this team," Lobato said. "Especially since they started to push, as well Javi as José, to keep things calmed down into the bunch and not to let the break go away much, and into the final kilometers, with Gorka keeping me in good position.
"There was some crosswind in the finale and, together with all nerves up and the fight for position... it all made the finish quite difficult. Still, I was telling Gorka to keep going until where he could, to stay calm, because I would look for my distance and give it the final shot."
Sylvain Chavanel – hoping for a better spring in his second year at IAM Cycling – showed encouraging signs by taking third place on the stage, two seconds back, while Grega Bole (CCC Sprandi) beat stage 1 winner Pim Lighthart (Lotto Soudal) to fourth.
The stage had been animated by a seven-man break featuring Johnny Hoogerland (Roompot), Peio Bilbao (Caja Rural-RGA), Songezo Jim, Merhawi Kudus (MTN-Qhuebeka), Rodolfo Torres (Colombia), Maciej Paterski (CCC Sprandi) and Victor Martin (Burgos BH), but they were tightly-controlled by a peloton where Movistar and Giant-Alpecin were eager to ensure a bunch finish.
Paterski was the final survivor of that move but despite his late defiance, he was swept up with seven kilometres remaining as Tinkoff-Saxo surged to the front of the peloton. It briefly appeared as though Froome’s red jersey was under threat, but in truth, the terrain and the speed of the bunch were hardly conducive to late attacks.
Froome still needed to be wise to splits in the peloton, however, and he safely navigated the potentially perilous finale – and helped himself to sixth place on the stage in the process – to ensure the overall win by two seconds.
"It wasn't as easy as I'd imagined and the racing was full on today. It was windy, but I'm really happy with how the guys performed out there – they supported me all the way through and I'm delighted to get this win for them," Froome told his team website.
"It couldn't have gone any better for us out here, and this win's special as it's my first race of the season. That said, I still have a lot to build on as we head towards the Tour de France. I want to stay on this path, staying healthy and injury-free, and gradually building my form."
After Contador’s seeming knock-out blow atop the Hazallanas on Friday, Froome responded in kind on the summit finish on Saturday to take the verdict at this Vuelta a Andalucia. But as both men now regroup, they will be keenly aware that this is merely a sparring session in the grand scheme of things. They will renew hostilities at Tirreno-Adriatico in March, the next high-profile weigh-in ahead of the prize fight in France in July.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Juan Jose Lobato (Esp) Movistar Team||3:48:56|
|2||John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin||0:00:01|
|3||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling||0:00:02|
|4||Pim Ligthart (Ned) Lotto - Soudal||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Grega Bole (Cze) CCC Sprandi Polkowice||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Moreno Hofland (Ned) Team Lotto NL - Jumbo||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Jan Bakelants (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Alberto Contador Velasco (Esp) Tinkoff - Saxo||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Crédits||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Wanty – Groupe Gobert||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Jerome Pineau (Fra) IAM Cycling||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Bob Jungels (Lux) Trek Factory Racing||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Benat Intxausti Elorriagai (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:08|
|17||Luis Miguel Mate (Esp) Cofidis, Solutions Crédits||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Edward Theuns (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise||0:00:10|
|19||Sébastien Reichenbach (Sui) IAM Cycling||0:00:12|
|20||Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team Sky||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Michael Valgren Andersen (Den) Tinkoff - Saxo||0:00:14|
|22||Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky||0:00:15|
|23||Yannick Eijssen (Bel) Wanty – Groupe Gobert||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Esp) Team Sky||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Serguei Firsanov (Rus) RusVelo||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Movistar Team||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Lotto NL - Jumbo||0:00:18|
|28||Jerome Coppel (Fra) IAM Cycling||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Esp) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto - Soudal||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Nicholas Roche (Irl) Team Sky||0:00:22|
|32||Fabio Silvestre (Por) Trek Factory Racing||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Miguel Angel Rubiano Chavez (Col) Colombia||0:00:24|
|34||David Arroyo Duran (Esp) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Edward Fabián Díaz Cárdenas (Col) Colombia||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Christopher Jones (USA) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team||0:00:29|
|37||Tyler Farrar (USA) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Andrei Solomennikov (Rus) RusVelo||0:00:36|
|39||Oliver Naesen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Huub Duyn (Ned) Team Roompot||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Alexander Foliforov (Rus) RusVelo||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto - Soudal||0:00:39|
|43||Adrian Honkisz (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Team Roompot||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Francis De Greef (Bel) Wanty – Groupe Gobert||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ||0:00:42|
|47||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar||0:00:45|
|48||Merhawi Kudus (Eri) MTN - Qhubeka||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Esp) Trek Factory Racing||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Marcel Wyss (Sui) IAM Cycling||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Koen De Kort (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin||0:00:48|
|53||Juan Pablo Valencia (Col) Colombia||0:00:54|
|54||Alex Norberto Cano Ardila (Col) Colombia||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||Jay Thomson (Rsa) MTN - Qhubeka||0:00:56|
|56||Amaury Capiot (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen - Baloise||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Maxime Mederel (Fra) Team Europcar||0:00:57|
|58||Romain Sicard (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto - Soudal||0:00:58|
|60||Ibai Salas (Esp) Burgos-BH||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Johan Vansummeren (Bel) Ag2r La Mondiale||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||David Belda Garcia (Esp) Burgos-BH||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Daniele Ratto (Ita) UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto - Soudal||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Brian Van Goethem (Ned) Team Roompot||0:01:00|
|66||Sylwester Szmyd (Pol) CCC Sprandi Polkowice||0:01:04|
|67||Jesus Del Pino Corrochano (Esp) Burgos-BH||0:01:08|
|68||Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Team Roompot||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Jos Van Emden (Ned) Team Lotto NL - Jumbo||0:01:12|
|70||Simon Geschke (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Johannes Frohlinger (Ger) Team Giant-Alpecin||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Carlos Quintero (Col) Colombia||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Vincent Jerome (Fra) Team Europcar||0:01:21|
|74||Marc De Maar (Aho) Team Roompot||0:01:24|
|75||Artem Ovechkin (Rus) RusVelo||0:01:25|
|76||Reinier Honig (Ned) Team Roompot||0:01:28|
|77||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Trek Factory Racing||0:01:32|
|78||Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Wanty – Groupe Gobert||0:01:37|