Quinn Simmons surges to surprise stage 3 win at Vuelta a San Juan

Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) stunned the sprinters with a long kick to win stage 3 of Vuelta a San Juan on the narrow motor-racing track at Villicum.

Maximiliano Richeze (Argentina) ran out of real estate to finish a close second, while race leader Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) rolled across the line third, just ahead of Fernando Gaviria (Movistar) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel-Premier Tech) and Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies).

As an attack was launched to start the race track circuits in the final 5km by Eolo-Kometa’s Simone Bevilacqua, there was a crash behind which delayed reactions to begin the chase. The big teams made the catch with 2km to go and then battled the wind to set up the lead-out trains.

Then from amid the long shadows of the setting sun, Simmons launched his sprint from a corner with 500 metres to go and denied a tidal wave of sprinters the chance for victory. 

The home favourite Richeze, riding his final race before retirement at the end of the week, gave chase, but the Argentinian couldn't get around Simmons, who had planned his move in advance.

“The first thing today when I woke up, my coach sent me a video from when this race was won the same way, and I told my roommate Mathias [Vacek], ‘if you bring me there to this point, I’ll win today,” Simmons said at the finish with a wide smile.

“And then you saw the guys all the way from 30k to go, we were full always in position. To win like that is something special because for a rider like myself, there’s not a ton of opportunities because I don’t win in a sprint, I won’t win in the big mountains. You have to win on the hard days or you make your own attacks in the final like that. 

"I made one promise to the team this year and that was to win more races, because last year I didn’t win any. Now I’ve gone 100 per cent better.”

For Richeze, his disappointment at missing out on a valedictory win was tempered by pride at his performance. The 39-year-old, who had been due to join the defunct B&B Hotels team for 2023, hadn't raced since June.

"It’s a bitter taste," Richeze admitted. "I had marked this stage out to get a result, but I haven’t raced since June of last year and I don’t have the change of rhythm. Quinn is a great rider and it was sort of mission impossible to get up to him."

Bennett's third-place finish not only allowed him to retain the race lead, but he gained bonus seconds to move six seconds ahead of Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal QuickStep). Gaviria remains third overall, now eight seconds back.

“We knew there was going to be an attack, but we thought it was going to come from Remco. We didn’t think it would be Quinn Simmons,” Bennett smiled. The Irishman knew from past experience that this finale lent itself to late attacks, and, as in 2019, he had to settle for winning the bunch sprint behind the break.

“It’s frustrating, because you always want to win. But Quinn Simmons took the biggest risk today and he got the biggest reward. He deserved it.”

How it unfolded

The soaring temperatures had contributed to some early abandons at the Vuelta a San Juan and the 146 riders left in the race were glad of the shelter afforded in the paddocks of the motor-racing circuit at Villicum ahead of stage 3, which was again played out beneath blazing sunshine.

The stage began and ended on the circuit, and while the spoils were always likely to decided on the race’s return to the Autodromo, that didn’t dissuade two enterprising bands of early attackers from forging clear. 

The two groups eventually coalesced, leaving Marcelo Méndez, Pedro Gordillo (Rawson), Emiliano Contreras (Chimbas), Daniel Juarez, Mauricio Domínguez (Virgen de Fatima), José Rodríguez (Chile) and Lukas Dundic (Argentina) out in front.

The leaders established a maximum lead of five minutes on the almost entirely flat course before the peloton gradually set about the task of reeling them back in. Like on the opening two days, Bennett’s Bora-Hansgrohe and Jakobsen’s Soudal-QuickStep teams found common cause in leading the pursuit, and well before the shadows began to lengthen, it was clear the stage would be decided on the finale back on the motor racing circuit.

The escapees were duly clawed back with a shade over 30km remaining. From there, the bunch finish looked a certainty, even if the undulations of the Villicum track had the potential to spring an upset, as Zdeněk Stybar showed here in 2020.

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