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Having made it into a select group that sprinted for the win after an aggressive stage, Keukeleire beat Bouet and Felline to win stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana; Quintana retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti

FABIO FELLINE

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JENS KEUKELEIRE

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MAXIME BOUET

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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01.09.2016 @ 18:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jens Keukeleire (Orica-BikeExchange) took his first grand tour stage win when he came out on top in a reduced bunch sprint on stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana. In a fast and aggressive race, the Belgian dug deep to make it over the steep Alto El Vivero and then launched a long sprint to clearly beat Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep) and Fabio Felline (Trek) in the final dash to the line. Despite an attack from Alebrto Contador (Tinkoff), there were no changed to the top of the GC and so Nairo Quintana (Movistar) retained the red jersey.

 

In 2010, Jens Keukeleire had one of the most impressive neo-pro seasons for the Cofidis team. During a golden spring, he won numerous races and it looked like the next Belgian classics star had been born.

 

However, Keukeleire failed to live up to his promises and even though he has occasionally hit great form like in 2013 when he won two stages at the Vuelta a Burgos, and has been in the top 10 in some of the big classics, he has disappeared into an anonymous domestique role at Orica-BikeExchange. This year he even had a major disappointment when he was the final rider from the team to miss out on selection for the Tour de France.

 

Today Keukeleire showed that he could be on tract to finally live up to the expectations he created six years ago. After a solid start to the season that saw him win a stage in the Tour de Slovenie, he claimed his first grand tour stage win when the Vuelta a Espana returned to the Basque Country for the first time in four years.

 

On paper, the stage which included two late passages of the steep Alto El Vivero was too hard for Keukeleire but the Belgian has shown great form recently and he dug deep to make it top with the peloton while the attacks flew off the front. After a hectic run-in to the finish, things came back together for a reduced bunch sprint and here Keukeleire was in a class of his own.

 

It had already been a brutally fast stage when the peloton hit the climb for the final time with 17km to go. A very aggressive start had led to a six-rider breakaway which was brought back by Astana and Movistar just metres from the bottom of the ascent and so everything was open as they tackled the steep slopes.

 

Working for Luis Leon Sanchez, Dario Cataldo (Astana) set the pace on the lower slopes of the climb before Dries Devenyns (IAM) made a solo attack. While Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) took over the pace-setting, the Belgian got a nice advantage of 30 seconds.

 

Astana finally played their next card when Andrey Zeits attacked and he was quickly joined by George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo). The Kiwi quickly dropped his companions and while there were more attacks further back, both pressed on alone

 

Rojas continued to set the pace in the peloton and neutralized most of the attacks while lots of riders were dropped. However, Matvey Mamykin (Katusha) and Mathias Frank (IAM) managed to make it across to Zeist whom they quickly dropped.

 

Ben Hermans (BMC) was the next to try but it was Alberto Contador who really opened the battle. Howeer, Daniel Moreno, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and the rest of the favourites were glued to his wheel as they sprinted past Zeits, Mamykin and Frank.

 

Impressively, Devenyns still had a 35-second advantage when Contador stopped his attack. Mamykin attacked again before Moreno, Davide Formolo (Cannondale) and Frank took off. The latter briefly fell off as Formolo and Moreno passed Mamykin but both of them made it back after they had reached the top.

 

Jan Bakelants (Ag2r), David De La Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep) and Luis Leon Sanchez joined Formolo, Moreno, Frak and Mamykin to form a strong chase group 30 seconds behind the lone leader. As they sped down the descent, they caught Bennett.

 

Further back, a regrouping took place and as Fabio Felline had made the selection, Trek started to chase with Haimar Zubeldia. With 8km to go, he brought the chase group back before Bennett gave it another try.

 

Samuel Sanchez joined forces with Zubeldia, but the gap was not really coming down. With 5km to go, Devenyns was still 30 seconds ahead and so Zeits also started to work on the front.

 

Bennett was brought back before Jan Bakelants and Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) attacked with four kilometres to go. Jose Mendes (Bora-Argon 18) joined Yates and the pair briefly got a small advantage.

 

 

Zeits brought Mendes and Yates back as they approached the final 3km 15 seconds behind the lone leader. Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) was the next to try but Zubeldia shut it down and then took a huge turn. In fact, he even got a small gap and Yates and Egor Silin (Katusha) were quick to join him.

 

The trio caught Devenyns just before the flamme rouge but with 800m to go, it all came back together. Jonathan Castroviejo tried to set Valverde up for the sprint but chaos ruled on the finishing straight. Keukeleire found a gap and as he launched his sprint, he got a big advantage. No one could come close and he easily beat Maxime Bouet and a fast-finishing Felline to take the biggest win of his career.

 

Nairo Quintana finished safely in the bunch and so retained his lead with a 54-second advantage over Chris Froome (Sky). He will try to stay safe in tomorrow’s stage which is another very lumpy affair. After a relatively flat start, the riders will tackle four category 3 climbs in quick succession. The final top comes with 50.2km to go and from there, the riders will follow lumpy roads to the finish in Urdaz.

 

A lumpy stage

After four consecutive summit finishes, the riders faced another tough stage when they tackled the 193.2km from Los Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao on stage 12. After a flat start, the riders hit a category 1 climb at the 30km mark and then there was another category 3 climb to tackle before flat roads led to Bilbao. In the end, the riders did two laps of a 28.5km circuit that included the steep Alto El Vivero (4.2km, 8.5%) just 12.9km from the finish. From there, it was a downhill and flat run to the finish.

 

The 174 riders who reached the top of Peña Cabarga yesterday were all there as the peloton rolled towardss the Basque Country under a sunny sky. Immediately from the start, LottoNL-Jumbo attacked and it set the scene for a blistering start. After 9km of racing, three riders got the first large gap, but after it had become a quartet, they were brought back 3km later.

 

A big group gets clear

The next break was more serious. After 12 km of racing, Philippe Gilbert and Danilo Wyss (BMC), Victor Campenaerts (Lotto NL Jumbo), Tom Stamsnijder (Giant - Alpecin), Sergey Lagutin (Katusha), Gert Dockx and Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx - Quick Step), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale - Drapac), Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre - Merida), Jérôme Cousin (Cofidis), Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA) and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) got clear and it gave rise to a fierce battle. During the next 8km, Astana chased hard and after 20km, the work was rewarded as the group was brought back.

 

While Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) dropped back to the medical car, the attacks continued but after 30km of racing, no one had escaped. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) then got a small gap, but neither he nor the subsequent break of two riders got a big advantage.

 

Astana on the defensive

The field was back together as they hit the first climb where Dimenion Data set the pace. Then Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) attacked, and they were soon joined by Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Quentin Jauregui (AG2R - La Mondiale), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale - Drapac ) and Omar Fraile (Dimension Data). Again Astana was on the defensive, and they managed to neutralize the offensive.

 

A group of 21 riders, among others Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) and Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx- Quick Step) got clear but after 45 km they were also brought. Despite the tough climb, the riders covered 44km during the first hour, and there was no indication that the pace would go down.

 

Seven riders get clear

The hard pace meant that the field was divided into four groups three kilometers from the top. Astana, Dimension Data and Trek were all active, but it was David Lopez and Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Louis Meintjes (Lampre - Merida) and Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx - Quick Step) who escaped and later also Darwin Atapuma (BMC ) made it across before Lopez beat Meintjes, Brambilla, Atapuma and Kennauh in the KOM sprint.

 

Romain Hardy (Cofidis) took off in pursuit and made the junction on the descent, but the field was just 20 seconds behind. Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) made it across while Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) and Marcel Wyss (IAM) failed in their attempt to do so.

 

Movistar take control

After 63 km, the seven leaders had a lead of 35 seconds, and it was had grown to 1.14 at the 71km mark. Movistar hit the front with Rory Sutherland and Imanol Erviti and foinally things calmed down. It was even more relaxed when the Spaniards slowed down to wait for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who punctured, and so the gap was 1.46 after 78 km of racinh.

 

Florian Senechal (Cofidis) left the race before the break hit the next climb with a lead of 2.14, and they increased it to 2.24 before Elissonde beat Lopez and Atapuma in the KOM sprint. The field reached the top 2.24 later after two hours with an average speed of 42.9 km/h.

 

Disaster for Atapuma

As the escapees tried to increase their advantage, disaster struck for Atapuma. The Colombian crashed on the descent and even though he quickly got back on his bike, a bike change cost him more time. There was no time to wait for him and even though the Colombian did his best to get back, it turned out to be impossible. With 85km to go, he was brought back.

 

Sutherland and Erviti kept the gap stable at 2.20 for a few kilometres before they increased the speed. As they hit the final 80km, they had reduced the gap to 1.55.

 

Talansky goes down

The escapees increased the pace and managed to push the gap out to 2.30 where it stabilized for more than 10 km as they headed towards Bilbao. As passed through the city for the first time, they had even increased their advantage by 15 seconds.

 

As the peloton approached the first passage of the Vivero climb, the fight for position started and this caused a small crash. Alberto Contador and Andrew Talansky were both involved but not of the suffered any injuries.

 

Astana come to the fore

With 50km to go, Astana showed their intentions to win the stage with Luis Leon Sanchez as they put Gatis Smukulis on the front and as he, Sutherland and Erviti emptied themselves, the gap came down on the run-in to the climb. At the same time, the fight for position was huge as Ag2r and Dimension Data were very active.

 

The front group hit the Alto El Vivero with an advantage of 2.05 and as soon as the terrain got harder, Hardy was dropped from the break. Meanwhile, Alessandro Vanotti (Astana) took over the pace-setting and after some confusion where he briefly got a gap, the Italian created a big selection, sending lots of rides out the back door.

 

Elissonde wins the KOM sprint

Vanotti’s hard pace brought the gap down to 1.35 and this forced the escapees to react. Lopez was unable to follow and so only four riders were left in the lead as they approached the top.

 

Elissonde rode very hard in the front group and briefly managed to distance Meintjes and Kennaugh but the group was still together when the Frenchman led Brambilla, Kennaugh and Meintjes over the top. Vanotti was first from the peloton, 1.55 later.

 

The break is caught

As they went down the descent, Lopez rejoined the leaders and Astana added more firepower to the chase as Vanotti got some help from Dario Cataldo. The two Italians worked well together to reduce the gap to 1.30 as they hit the final 35km.

 

At the bottom of the descent, Cataldo and Vanotti had reduced the gap to just a minute and the gap was now melting away. When Lopez led Kennaugh and Elissonde across the finish line for the first time to win the intermediate sprint, the peloton followed just 25 seconds later, led by Dmitriy Gruzdev and the entire Astana team.

 

Gruzdev, Cataldo and Vanotti continued to ride on the front as they headed towards the climb and so the gap was down to just 10 seconds as they hit the final 20km. Lopez was the first to sit up and 2km later, it was all back together. Moments later, they hit the climb where the final action unfolded.

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