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With a perfectly timed sprint, Drucker came around Meersman to take a dominant victory in the bunch sprint on stage 16 of the Vuelta a Espana; Selig and Arndt completed the podium and Quintana retained the lead

Photo: Tim De Waele/TDW Sport

JEAN PIERRE DRUCKER

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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NIKIAS ARNDT

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RUDIGER SELIG

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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05.09.2016 @ 17:53 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jempy Drucker (BMC) finally took the stage win that he was close to at last year’s Vuelta a Espana when he made the most of a rare chance for the sprinters on stage of the Spanish race. Having positioned himself perfectly on Gianni Meersman’s (Etixx-QuickStep) wheel, he easily came around the Belgian and held off Rudiger Selig (Bora-Argon 18) and Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) to take a dominant victory. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished safely and so retained the lead.

 

BMC is not known as a sprint team and when they signed the talented Luxembourger for the 2015 season, Jempy Drucker was mainly picked up as future classics star. However, Drucker has always shown potential in bunch sprints, especially on fast days, and so the team gave him his chance at last year’s Vuelta.

 

Known for his great positioning skills, Drucker was close to victory on several occasions and he was by far one of the most consistent sprinters in the 2015 race. However, the elusive victory was missing but after he showed excellent form at the Vuelta a Burgos where he finished second three times in a row, he was confident that he could break the drought in this year’s edition of the Spanish grand tour.

 

Drucker didn’t get the race off to the best start as he was held up by crashes in the first sprints and then he had to suffer a lot in the mountains to get his chance in the final part of the race. His first big goal was today’s stage 16 which was one of the few remaining chances for the fast guys and it turned out that it was worth all the suffering as he grabbed the opportunity by both hands, taking a very convincing win.

 

Drucker did everything perfectly in the hectic finale, showing his great positioning skills to grab Gianni Meersman’s wheel. When the Belgian launched his sprint way too early, the Luxembourger could easily come around and pick up the biggest win of his career with a big margin, holding off Rudiger Selig and Nikias Arndt who made it two Germans on the podium.

 

It was a very fast stage as the peloton had to chase hard to catch a six-rider breakaway but the junction was finally made with 12km to go. At this point, the peloton had hit the coast where the threat of crosswinds made things hectic and all the big teams were fighting hard to stay in front.

 

Peter Kennaugh hit the front for Sky and then Salatore Puccio strung things out for the British team. Lots of riders sat up as they passed through a technical section where Leopold König set the pace. He stayed there until 6kmremained where Giant-Alpecin took over with Tobias Ludvigsson and Chad Haga.

 

The German team set the pace until 4km remained where Danilo Wyss hit the front for BMC, with Jempy Drucker sitting in second position. He had no response when Jos Van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) launched a strong attack but Johannes Fröhlinger (Giant-Alpecin) brought him back immediately.

 

Fröhlinger kept riding on the front until Koen De Kort took over on a small climb with 2km to go. Here Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) launched a very powerful attack that nobody could respond to and the Italian soon got an advantage of 5 seconds.

 

Etixx-QuickStep started to chase hard but Bennati did extremely well to keep the gap at 5 seconds. However, as he hit the 1200m finishing straight, he started to lose ground and it was Zdenek Stybar who took a massive turn on the Belgian team to almost close it down.

 

When the junction was almost made, Meersman launched a long sprint but it was evident that he had gone too early. Drucker was in the perfect position on his wheel and easily came around, holding of Selig and Arndt to take the biggest win of his career. Meersman had to settle for fourth.

 

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished safely and so retained the lead with an advantage of 3.37 over Chris Froome (Sky). He now heads into a well-deserved rest day but then he faces another tough challenge. On stage 17, the riders will tackle three climbs in the first half before they head along flat roads to the final climb. The Alto Mas de la Costa may only be 3.8km long but with an average gradient of 12.5%, it is one of the steep walls that characterize the Vuelta and so it will be the scene of another GC showdown.

 

One for the sprinters

After yesterday’s drama, the riders faced an easier day on stage 16 which brought them over 156.4km from Alcañiz to Peñiscola. After a long, gradual uphill section, the riders tackled a category 3 climb at the midpoint before they descended to the coast. Here they followed the flat coastal roads for the final 17km.

 

It was another very hot sunny day when the riders gathered for the start. All the riders who reached the finish yesterday were present when they rolled through the neutral zone – also the 93 riders who were controversially allowed to stay in the race even though they missed yesterday's time cut.

 

Six riders get clear

After two hard days, many hoped for a calm day and so the break was established immediately from the start. Silvan Dillier (BMC), Sven Erik Bystrøn (Katusha), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Julien Morice (Direct Energie) attacked as soon as the flag was dropped, and after they had been joined by Davide Villella (Cannondale) and Mario Costa (Lampre -Merida), the peloton let them go. After 4km of racing, they were already 50 seconds ahead, and the lead had grown to 1.53 just three kilometers later.

 

The peloton let the gap grow to 3 minutes after 12km of racing before Astana surprisingly began to chase. However, they stopped soon and instead Movistar assumed their usual position at the front of the field. They had no intention of catching the break though, and therefore the gap had gone out to 2.30 at the 20km mark.

 

Giant-Alpecin start their chase

That was the signal for Giant-Alpecin to begin their chase and after approximately 30km they kept the gap at around 3 minutes. With an average speed of 45.6km/h during the first hour, it was a very fast start

 

Sindre Lunke (Giant-Alpecin) did the early work and he soon got some help from Simon Pellaud (IAM). Etixx-QuickStep also put Martin Velits on the front and those three riders kept the gap at around 3 minutes.

 

While the peloton enjoyed a relatively relaxed ride in the sunny conditions, Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) hit the deck together with teammate Sam Bewley. The Brit was back on his back immediately but he had to drop back to be attended by the medical car.

 

Five teams lead the chase

More sprint teams came to the fore when Jose Mendes (Bora-Argon 18) and Nic Dougall (Dimension Data) joined forces with Pellaud, Lunke and Velits.  Mathias Frank took over from teammate Pellaud and the quintet worked well together to reduce the gap to 2.45 as they hit the only climb with 84km to go.

 

The gap was kept stable as they headed up the climb before Mate led Villella and Bystrøm over the top. Frank did a massive amount of work in the peloton and in general, the bunch was going very fast, knowing that they couldn’t take any chances with the strong breakaway.

 

The gap comes down

While Joe Dombrowski and Sergio Paulinho worked to rejoin the peloton following mechanical, the gap slowly came down. As they hit the final 75km, it was down to just 2.10 and it continued to come down when Clement Chevrier and Pellaud also started to work for IAM.

 

The gap was still a bit more than 2 minutes when they started the long descent to the coast and here the peloton had a hard time taking back time. The gap stabilized at around 2 minutes as it was now Velits, Peter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep), Chevrier, Pellaud, Dougall, Lunke and Mendes setting the pace.

 

A fight for position

As they again hit flat roads, the peloton started to get closer to the leaders as the hard-working domestiques went full gas, knowing that they could not take any chances. Hence the gap was down to just a minute with 30km to go.

 

As they approached the coast, the fight for position intensified dramatically and the chase was given more firepower when Tom Stamsnijder (Giant-Alpecin) also started to work on the front. With 20km to go, the big teams took control as Tinkoff, Cannondale, Giant, Astana, Sky and Movistar lined out their trains on the front, 20 seconds behind the leaders.

 

The break is caught

As they hit the coast, Villella and Morice were dropped from the break before Dillier beat Mate and Bystrøm in the intermediate sprint. Costa was also left behind but the three remaining escapees dug deep, trying to maintain a 15-second advantage.

 

Passing through the city, Tinkoff took control with Manuele Boaro, Ivan Rovny and Michael Gogl and then the big teams again lined out their troops as they returned to wide roads. Sky, Astana, Bora and Tinkoff were all on the front when they caught the break with 12km to go. In the end, it came down to a sprint where Drucker emerged as the strongest.

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