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After his win in GP La Marseillaise, Ligthart took his second victory when he won the bunch sprint on stage 1a of the Vuelta a Andalucia to take the first leader’s jersey in the race

Photo: Lotto Soudal

FABIO SILVESTRE

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LOTTO-DSTNY

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PIM LIGTHART

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VUELTA A ANDALUCIA

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18.02.2015 @ 13:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Pim Ligthart (Lotto Soudal) continued his dream start to the 2015 season when he won stage 1a of the Vuelta a Andalucia in a bunch sprint. The Dutchman made use of his fast legs to relegate Fabio Silvestre (Trek) and Grega Bole (CCC) to the minor podium spots and became the first leader of the 5-day race.

 

Last year Pim Ligthart failed to win a single race in his first season as a Lotto Soudal rider. In 2015, however, the Dutchman has got the ball rolling right from the start of the year.

 

A few weeks ago, Ligthart won his first race of the season when he emerged as the fastest in the bunch sprint at the GP La Marseillaise. Having realized that he can now be a contender in the sprints, the Dutchman went into the Vuelta a Andalucia hoping that he could extend his palmares in a field that was not loaded with fast finishers.

 

As expected the opening half-stage came down to a bunch sprint and all eyes were on big favourites John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) and Juan Jose Lobato (Movistar) to come away with the win. On the uphill finishing straight and in the technical finale, however, Ligthart rode the perfect race to continue Lotto Soudal’s great start to the season, relegating Fabio Silvestre and Grega Bole to the minor podium spots. Neither Degenkolb nor Lobato managed to make it into the top 10 in the highly confusing sprint that was impacted by a big crash with 3km to go and Lobato was one of the riders to go down, just like Frank Schleck (Trek) and many of Ligthart’s teammates.

 

Apart from the crash, it was a pretty straightforward sprint stage with an early break that was easily controlled by Tinkoff-Saxo, Wanty, Movistar and Giant-Alpecin. When they were brought back, Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen) made a solo attack but he was brought back after a short stint off the front.

 

In the finale, Ligthart even managed to distance his rivals by 2 seconds and so he goes into stage 1b with a 2-second advantage over Silvestre. However, it will be hard for him to defend his lead as the riders will tackle a short, very technical 8.2km time trial in the afternoon.

 

A flat opener

The 61st Vuelta a Andalucia kicked off with two half stages as the riders first tackled a short sprint stage in the morning and a short time trial in the afternoon. The 121.3km opener brought them from La Rabida to Hinojos and was mostly flat. In the finale, however, there were a few smaller climbs before the riders hit the slightly rising final kilometre.

 

The riders took the start under a beautiful sunny sky and they got the race off to a very fast and aggressive beginning. At the 5km mark, Nic Dougall (MTN-Qhubeka), Ibai Salas (Burgos), Sjoerd Van Ginneken (Roompot), Aleksandr Komin (Rusvelo), Blel Kadri (Ag2r), Daan Olivier (Giant-Alpecin) and Cedric Pineau (FDJ) had created a small 12-second gap but the peloton was in no mood to let such a big group get clear.

 

A break is formed

At the 7km mark, it was back together and new attacks could be launched. After 12km of racing, the elastic finally snapped when Chris Jones (Unitedhealthcare), Komin, Salas and Reinier Honig (Roompot) got clear.

 

The peloton slowed down and at the 15km mark, the quartet were already 1.05 ahead. However, Tinkoff-Saxo were in no mood to lose control of this race and at the 30km mark, the Russian team had made sure that the gap was no more than 1.37.

 

The peloton slows down

After the first hour, the riders had covered 40.2km and the gap was still only 1.22. Wanty and Giant-Alpecin had now joined forces with Tinkoff-Saxo but they slowed down a bit and allowed the gap to reach 3.13 after 47km of racing.

 

Movistar now also started to work in the peloton and this caused the gap to come down. At the 50km mark, it was only 2.00 where the peloton kept it stable for a little while

 

Helven takes off

With 50km to go, the gap was 1.54 but the chase now got disrupted by a small crash that luckily had no serious consequences. The peloton was now riding very fast and at the 73km mark, the gap was only 35 seconds.

 

Shortly after the 80km mark, the break was caught but this only opened the door for new attacks. Sander Helven (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Sebastian Mascaro (Burgos) gave it a go but only the Belgian managed to get clear.

 

Sky in control

At the 90km mark, he was 30 seconds ahead and with 25km to go, he had even extended it to 38 seconds. Now the peloton was riding fast though and after 99km of racing, he was caught.

 

Sky had now moved to the front to keep Chris Froome safe, meaning that it was Peter Kennaugh, Kanstantsin Siutsou and Froome who took the points in the intermediate sprint. All was now set for a sprint finish and here Ligthart emerged as the fastest after a big crash had brought lots of riders down.

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