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Coming off the Luxembourger’s wheel, Van Poppel easily beat Drucker and Meersman in the bunch sprint on stage 1 of the Vuelta a Burgos; the Dutchman is the first leader on the eve of the team time trial

Photo: Unipublic










02.08.2016 @ 16:30 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Danny Van Poppel (Sky) proved that he is ready to lead Sky in the sprints at the Vuelta a Espana when he claimed a dominant victory in the bunch sprint on stage 1 of the Vuelta a Burgos. After hard work from his team all day, the Dutchman came off Jempy Drucker’s (BMC) wheel and easily distanced his Luxembourgish rival to take his second win of the year and the first leader’s jersey in the traditional warm-up race for the Vuelta.


After his stage win at last year’s Vuelta, Danny Van Poppel was picked up by the Sky team which was in search for another sprinter to complement Elia Viviani and add to the tally for the Brits who have traditionally had a hard time in the bunch kicks. However, nothing went to plan for the Dutchman in the first part of the year as a small knee injury forced him to postpone his debut for a long time.


When he finally returned to racing, he was already in good form and he saved his spring season by taking a popular home win for Sky at the Tour de Yorkshire. Since then he has been gearing up for his big goal of the year, the Vuelta a Espana, where he hopes to get a bid of freedom in a team that is set to be led by Chris Froome.


Like many other Vuelta riders, Van Poppel is using the Vuelta a Burgos to test his form and today he proved that he deserves at least a bit of support from his teammates in the three-week race. Despite having gone down in a crash early in the stage, the Dutchman was in a class of his own in the bunch sprint that decided the first stage.



The 38th edition of the Vuelta a Burgos kicked off with a 158km stage from Sasamon to Melgar de Fernamental. First the riders did a 78km loop before returning to the start city. Along the way, they tackled the only category 3 climb at the 26km mark. From there, they headed to the finish where they ended the race by doing one lap of a flat 40km circuit. The final turn came at the flamme rouge and then the 6-7m wide road bent slightly to the left and was very slightly uphill.


Otto Vergaerde (Topsport Vlaanderen) was the non-starter when the peloton gathered under a sunny and very hot sky. With the prospect of a bunch sprint, it was not surprising that the break was established relatively early. After only 4km of racing, Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Nic Schultz (Orica-Bike Exchange), Dries Van Gestel (Topsport Vlaanderen), Martijn Tusveld (Giant-Alpecin), Jacques van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Pablo Torres (Burgos) and Julen Irizar (Euskadi) broke clear, and they were allowed to build a lead of more than three minutes.


Tusveld secured the mountains jersey by beating Torres, Irizar and van Rensburg in the only KOM sprint before the peloton reached the top 3.35 later. A little later, Ander Berrenetxea (Euskadi) became the first rider to leave the race.


The riders covered 43km during the first hour, and already at that time Sky, Etixx-QuickStep and Movistar had kicked into action. After 49km of racing, they had reduced the gap to just two minutes. A little later, Belkov won the first intermediate sprint ahead of Torres and van Rensburg while the peloton reached the mark 1.58 later. The gap was exactly the same when Torres got revenge by beating Belkov and Tusveld in the second sprint at the 78km mark.


The peloton kept the gap at around 2 minutes while Marc De Maar (Roompot) who has just come back after a long injury break, crashed and had to leave the race with what looked like a broken collarbone. Pre-stage favourite Danny Van Poppel (Sky) was also involved in the tumble but he was able to continue and even asked his team to contribute to the pace-setting.


Rory Sutherland (Movistar), Xabier Zandio (Sky) and Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QUickStep) had been given the task of controlling the break and they had shaved another 30 seconds off the lead when they entered the final 50km. The escapees responded well to the faster pace and they managed to push the gap back out to 1.50. Meanwhile, Torres beat Belkov and van Rensburg in the final intermediate sprint.


The peloton again increased the pace and under the impetus of Zandio, Sutherland and Bouet, the gap had been reduced to 1.25 at the first passage of the line. With 32km to go, it dropped to less than a minute and it was only 45 seconds at the start of the final 25km.


The fight for position clearly intensified and while Zandio, Sutherland and Bouet kept riding on the front, Movistar, Sky and Tinkoff gathered prominently in the front positions. With 15km to go, they had brought the gap down to 15 seconds and it was now Sky and Tinkoff lined up next to each other, with Zandio still leading the British team


When the catch was imminent, Van Gestel and van Rensburg attacked but they were passed by Irizar who made a late bid for freedom. However, it was all over with 13.9km to go where it all came back together for the expected sprint.


Sky maintained control with Ian Boswell and they didn’t respond when Igor Merino (Burgos) launched a solo attack. As the peloton slowed down, the Spaniard managed to build an advantage of 12 seconds with 10km to go where Movistar hit the front with Giovanni Visconti.


The gap even went out to 15 seconds as the lead-out trains all hesitated and it was Van Poppel’s Sky team that again gathered on the front. David Lopez and Boswell set the pace as ONE, Topsport Blaanderen and Etixx-QuickStep lined up their trains next to their British rivals.


The pace increased dramatically and with 7km to go, Merino was back in the fold. Etixx-QuickStep, ONE and Orica-BikeExchange were setting the pace, with the former two taking full control just moments later. Entering the final 5km, Tinkoff hit the front with two riders and they set the pace until Etixx-QuickStep again took over with 3km to go.


Three Etixx-QuickStep riders rode hard on the front but they had lost the rest of the train and while Segrio Paulinho (Tinkoff) got back on his bike after a crash, the team had to back off. Instead, Dimension Data and FDJ lined out their trains next to each other and they battled hard for control until BMC flew past them just as they passed the flamme rouge.


Daniel Oss took a massive turn for Jempy Drucker before Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep) took over as they went through the final turn. He tried to do the lead-out for Meersman but the Belgian found himself in fourth position behind Drucker and Van Poppel.


When Lampaert swung off, Drucker was forced to launch a long sprint and that ended up being the perfect lead-out for Van Poppel. The Dutchman easily came around the Luxembourger and rode to a dominant win while Drucker held off Meersman in the battle for second.


There are no bonus seconds in the race and so Van Poppel is the first leader of the race in the same time as most of the peloton. He faces a big test tomorrow in what is the first important GC stage of the race, the 10.7km team time trial around the city of Burgos. The start is very technical with numerous turns and then the riders will head up the Alto del Castillo climb which comes after 5km of racing. Then it’s back into flat terrain for the final part of the race where the course again becomes more technical with numerous turns and roundabouts. However, the roads are completely flat after the descent.



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