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Rojas breaks a two-year drought by beating Shilov and Barbero in the flat first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and also becomes the first leader of the race

Photo: Sirotti

JOSE JOAQUIN ROJAS GIL

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VUELTA A CASTILLA Y LEON

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16.05.2014 @ 18:44 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) brought a two-year victory drought to an end when he won today's first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. The mostly flat stage came down to the expected bunch sprint and here the Spaniard emerged as the fastest by holding off Sergey Shilov (Lokosphinx) and Carlos Barbero (Euskadi) in the final dash to the line.

 

In 2012 Jose Joaquin Rojas won a stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco but since that glorious day in the WorldTour race, it has been a tough time for the Spaniard who battled for the green jersey in the 2011 Tour de France. Today he finally brought the long drought to an end when he won the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.

 

The three-day Spanish race kicked off with an almost completely flat stage on the Spanish plains but there was a big risk that the wind could play a role in a race where it had often wreaked havoc on the peloton. However, the drama never materialized and it all came down to a bunch sprint.

 

Movistar is the only WorldTour team in the race and so was expected to do most of the chase. However, they had to work hard to get their sprinter in contention as several breaks constantly took off in ever-changing race situations.

 

However, the Spaniards accomplished their mission, showing complete faith in Rojas, and the Spaniard didn't disappoint. In the bunch sprint, he beat Sergey Shilov and Carlos Barbero while his biggest pre-race rival Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural) had to settle for fourth.

 

With the win and bonus seconds, Rojas takes a four-second lead over Shilov into tomorrow's second stage of the race but he won't be expected to defend his jersey. After a mostly flat opening, the stage ends with two climbs in the finale, with the finish line coming at the top of the final one, and the day is expected to be the most decisive in the battle for the overall win in the three-day race.

 

A flat opener

Shortened to just 3 days due to financial difficulties, the 29th edition of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon kicked off with an almost completely flat 161.4km stage from Ciudad Rodrigo to Zamora.  Two smaller climbs featured in the final third of the race but unless the wind was really strong, a big bunch sprint was expected.

 

With many small continental teams in the race, however, a lot of riders were keen to go on the attack and it was a very fast and animated start to the stage after the 123 had taken off in sunny conditions. After 15km of racing, no one had managed to get clear as the strong wind also played a part in making the race fast.

 

 

The break takes off

At the 19km mark, Juan Jose Oroz (Burgos), Matteo Belli (Nankang), Matteo Gozzi (Nankang) and Martin Reinert (Stuttgart) got a small gap and they were joined by Gianluca Leonardi (Aero Zero) and Matteo Busato (MG Kvis) a little later. They built an advantage that reached a minute but impressively Bernardo Suaza (4-72) and Diego Rubio (Efapel) managed to bridge the gap to make it an 8-rider group.

 

The peloton had still not given up and so brought the gap back down to 30 seconds but at the 28km mark it was back up to a minute. The bunch now took a breather, allowing the gap to reach 3.45 after 42km of racing.

 

Several teams lead the chase

In the peloton, Movistar, Caja Rural and Differdange took control and started to stabilize the gap and brought it down to 2.55 at the 57km mark. For a long time, it hovered around the 3-minute mark but when the peloton hit a windier section, it started to come down.

 

At the 106km mark, the escapees were only 1.55 ahead and the pace was too much for Reinert who fell off the pace and later abandoned the race due to cramps. Movistar was now the only team leading the chase and they kept the gap stable at around 1.30.

 

The break is caught

In a windy section, Movistar again upped the pace and as a crash brought down a few riders, the peloton briefly split in two. It came back together though but the increased speed brought the break back at the 134km mark.

 

On the first climb, David Belda (Burgos), Jon Larrinaga (Euskadi) and Dmitry Sokolov (Lokosphinx), Gianluca Mengardo (Aero Zero), and Andrei Nechita (MG Kvis) attacked and they quickly got a 25-second gap. However, they were brought back before the top where Pablo Lechuga (Euskadi) beat Evgeny Shalunov (Lokoshinx) and Cesar Fonte (Radio Popular) in the battle for maximum points.

 

An aggressive finale

Larrinaga tried again and this time he was joined by Nicola dal Santo (Nankang). 20km from the finish, they were 25 seconds ahead but Dal Santo soon dropped his companion.

 

Larrinaga was joined by Shalunov and Luca Chirico (Aero Zero) and the trio tried hard to catch the lone leader. Dal Santo took maximum points on the final climb ahead of Larrinaga and Shalunov.

 

Sveshnikov tries a late attack

The peloton was in full speed and brought all escapees back. 13km from the line, however, Kirill Sveshnikov (Lokosphinx) tried to changed the predicted script by going off in a solo move and he managed to build up a 23-second gap.

 

8km from the finish, it was all back together and from there the speed was kept high all the way to the finish. In the end, Rojas proved that he still has a fast sprint by beating Shilov and Barbero to bring a two-year drought to an end.

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