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Launching a perfectly timed sprint off the Giant-Alpecin train, Cort just held Arndt off to win stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana in a bunch kick; Drucker completed the podium and Quintana retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti

JEAN PIERRE DRUCKER

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MAGNUS CORT

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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NIKIAS ARNDT

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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08.09.2016 @ 18:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Magnus Cort (Orica-BikeExchange) got the perfect start to his grand tour career when he claimed a maiden stage win already in his first three-week race on stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana. Having latched onto the Giant-Alpecin train, he anticipated Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) and just had enough to hold the German off in a close bunch sprint, with Jempy Drucker (BMC) completing the podium. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) retained the lead on the eve of the time trial.

 

In 2014, Magnus Cort was one of the most successful riders at the continental level and he took numerous wins in smaller races. He also proved his talents against WorldTour riders as he took multiple victories in races like the Tour des Fjords and the Tour of Denmark.

 

It was just a matter of time before he would turn professional and it was the Orica-BikeExchange team that won the battle for his signature. However, the first year at the pro level turned out to be testing one and he mostly worked as a domestique.

 

Things were not really improving in the first half of 2016 but after the summer break, the Dane has been flying. Riding for the national team, he won a stage at the Tour of Denmark and that made him confident that he could chase success at the Vuelta a Espana where he lined up for his grand tour debut as the team’s sprinter.

 

The race started with frustration as he was centimetres from taking the red jersey when he sprinted to third on stage 2 and since then the success of Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates has forced him to focus on a domestique role. However, today he got an unexpected chance in the penultimate bunch sprint of the race and despite having no support in the finale, he did everything right to claim a maiden grand tour stage win.

 

After a hard stage where a strong sprint teams were under pressure, an organized chase finally allowed the peloton to catch the break with 11km to go just as the GC teams were starting to battle for position. Sky were in control with Salvatore Puccio and Christian Knees before Movistar took over with Imanol Erviti.

 

With a headwind, it was a waiting game for the sprint teams and so they stayed behind Erviti and his Movistar teammates, saving their energy for the finale. Astana then took over with Alessandro Vanotti who led the group onto a bigger road with 5km to go.

 

Erviti returned to the front and then Jose Joaquin Rojas took over while Etixx-QuickStep and Giant-Alpecin lined out their train just behind. Sky then hit the front but they didn’t respond when Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) attacked on a small climb with 3km to go.

 

Giant-Alpecin tried to close the gap with Tobias Ludvigsson but he was unable to keep up with the Belgian who increased his advantage. Instead, it was Michal Golas (Sky) who took a huge turn to keep the gap stable at around 5 seconds.

 

With 2500m to go, Giant-Alpecin launched their train as they lined out Chad Haga, Johannes Fröhlinger, Koen De Kort and Nikias Arndt on the front. They easily brought Bakelants back and then stayed on the front as Fröhlinger took over.

 

Fröhlinger held off a surge from Etixx-QuickStep whose train got split as Niki Terpstra took a turn for the Belgian team. He led the peloton under the flamme rouge where Rudiger Selig (Bora-Argon 18) came to the fore. The German took a massive turn but as he had lost Michael Schwarzmann in the chaos, he ended up doing the lead-out for Giant-Alpecin.

 

De Kort finally hit the front with 500m to go and gave Arndt the perfect lead-out. However, Cort had been attentive to grab the German’s wheel and he was wise to anticipate his rival. He got the jump on Arndt and immediately got an advantage as the Giant rider grabbed his wheel. In the end, Arndt tried to come around but he just ran out of metres and had to settle for second. Jempy Drucker took third.

 

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished safely in the bunch and so retained his advantage of 3.37 over Chris Froome (Sky) as he heads into one of the most important stages of the race. Friday is the day of the crucial 37km time trial where big time gaps can be expected. The course is mainly flat and includes a combination of power and technical sections, meaning that it is suited to the big specialists.

 

A flat finale

After yesterday’s mountain stage, the sprinters hoped to get a chance on stage 18 which brought the riders over 200.6km from Requena to Gandia. The first half was hilly and included a category 2 climb after 70km of racing but from there it was mainly a downhill run to a flat finish on the Spanish coast.

 

It was another extremely hot day when the peloton gathered for the start and all the riders who managed to finish yesterday's stage were all there when they through the neutral zone. Unsurprisingly, it was another fast start but after about five kilometers succeeded Fumiyuki Beppu (Trek - Segafredo), Quentin Jauregui (AG2R - La Mondiale), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale - Drapac) and Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre - Merida) managed to get a gap. Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) joined them at the 8km mark where they were just 18 seconds ahead of the field. However, they quickly slowed down and so the gap had gone out to 1.14 after 11km of racing. Six kilometers later it was already three minutes.

 

Giant-Alpecin take cotrol

The advantage had reached 4.35 when Giant-Alpecin hit the front, but they allowed the lead to grow to five minutes before they were joined by Bora-Argon 18. The two German teams then started to stabilize the situation, and thus the gap was 4.42 after 44km. During the first hour, they covered 41.5km.

 

The sprint teams slowly started to reduce the gap which was only 3.57 at the bottom of the only climb where it was Giant-Alpecin and IAM that set the pace. While they went up the ascent, they kept the advantage between 3.30 and 4.00 until the escapees increased the pace near the top.

 

The break puts the peloton under pressure

Beppu beat Rolland and Jauregui in the KOM sprint before the peloton reached the top 5.50 later. The gap even went out to 6.50 as they hit the final 120km where the work in the bunch was done by Jose Mendes (Bora-Argon 18) and Sindre Lunke and Tom Stamsnijder (Giant-Alpecin).

 

The gap was not coming much down and it was still 6.30 when the terrain finally got easier with 100km to go. However, the gap was only coming down very slowly and the peloton only managed to take back 15 seconds during the next 15km.

 

The chase gets organized

Suddenly the gap started to grow again and when it had gone out to 6.30, Etixx-QuickStep had to react. They put Martin Velits and Pieter Serry on the front but as Stamsnijder and Mendes disappeared, they only had Lunke at their side in the attempt to close a gap of 6.25 in 80km.

 

The peloton was starting to panic and as Stamsnijder returned, Bora added Cesare Benedetti to the team of chasers and Nic Dougall (Dimension Data) also started to work, the chase got more organized. They strung out the group completely and even split it briefly.

 

The gap comes down

The fast pace had an effect as the gap had dropped to six minutes with 70km to go where splits started to appear in the crosswinds. However, things came back together as they turned into a head wind.

 

With 65km to go, the hard chase finally paid off as the gap had dropped 5.30 and now BMC also started to chase with Dylan Teuns. Maxime Bouet became the third rider to work for Etixx-QuickStep and as the headwind also took its toll, the escapees only had 4.35 with 60km to go.

 

The gap melts away

Vervaeke led Rolland and Beppu across the line in the intermediate sprint before the peloton arrived four minutes later. With 40km to go, the gap had dropped to 2.45.

 

IAM also started to chase with Simon Pellaud and so no less than six teams were contributing to the chase. As they hit the final 30km, Stamsnijder, Dougall, Pellaud, Benedetti, Bouet, Serry and Velits were all riding on the front and had reduced the gap to just 1.30.

 

Cattaneo sits up

Cattaneo decided that he had had enough and so opted to wait for the peloton while is four companions pressed on in a quest to hold off the field. However, the gap had dropped to less than a minute when they hit a small climb with 27km to go.

 

Jauregui launched a strong attack that only Vervaeke could initially follow. However, Rolland and Beppu slowly paced themselves back and the group was back together as they hit the final 25km.

 

The break is caught

The quartet worked well together but they slowly lost ground. With 20km to go, the gap was only 20 seconds and the peloton had now slowed down, just keeping the break under control.

 

The waiting game in the headwind continued until 12km remained where the GC teams came to the fore. Salvatore Puccio (Sky) and Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff) both took turns but it was LottoNL-Jumbo that took control with Martijn Keizer. The Dutchman brought the break back with 11km to go and from there everything was ready for the bunch sprint that Cort managed to win.

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