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Timing a late attack under the flamme rouge perfectly, Cummings narrowly held off a reduced peloton to win stage 3 of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco; Gerrans beat Felline in the sprint for second

Photo: RCS Sport - ANSA / Peri - Zennaro

FABIO FELLINE

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ITZULIA BASQUE COUNTRY

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MIKEL LANDA

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NTT PRO CYCLING TEAM

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SIMON GERRANS

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STEPHEN CUMMINGS

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06.04.2016 @ 18:22 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Less than a month after sneaking away to victory in stage 4 of Tirreno-Adriatico, Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data) did exactly the same on stage 3 of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Timing a late attack under the flamme rouge to perfection, he time trialled his way to the finish and narrowly held off the sprinters, with Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) beating Fabio Felline (Trek) in the battle of the fast men. Mikel Landa (Sky) retained his 1-second lead over Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo).

 

For several years, Stephen Cummings was known as a loyal domestique in some of the world’s biggest teams but he didn’t like his role. The Brit had won a stage at the 2012 Vuelta a Espana, had fallen in love with breakaways and wanted to find an employer that would give him more opportunities to ride for himself.

 

He found that chance at the Dimension Data team and he paid back the confidence from the African team by taking a memorable stage win in Mende at last year’s Tour de France. Since then, he has become a bit of a breakaway specialist and less than a month ago he took another WorldTour win in Tirreno-Adriatico.

 

Cummings took that win by attacking from a reduced peloton after a few late climbs had left the sprinters with no teammates and today it was a case of déjà vu as he did exactly the same in a very similar stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The Brit went under the flamme rouge and the sprinters had no teammates left to bring the strong rouleur back.

 

The lumpy stage included three steep climbs inside the final 30km and this was where the action really kicked off. Blel Kadri (Ag2r), Stefan Denifl (IAM), Domingos Goncalves (Caja Rural), Sam Oomen (Giant-Alpecin) and Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension data) hit the first ascent with a small advantage of just a minute over the peloton which had been led by the sprint teams of Orica-GreenEDGE and Trek.

 

Denifl set a fast pace right from the bottom and quickly sent both Kadri and Teklehaimanot out the back door. Goncalves also had to surrender while Amets Txurruka kept the gap at around a minute for Orica-GreenEDGE.

 

Surprisingly, the Australians opted for an aggressive strategy instead of waiting for a sprint and they sent Michael Albasini off in an attack. Dario Cataldo (Astana) took off in pursuit but he had a hard time closing the gap.

 

Albasini sprinted past Kadri, Teklehaimanot and Goncalves while Cataldo got some welcome assistance from Laurens De Plus (Etixx-QuickStep) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis). The trio worked well together but they failed to get much closer to Denifl and Oomen. In the peloton, it was Trek that led the chase and sent several riders out to back door.

 

Denifl led Oomen over the top while De Plus and Navarro were first from the chase group 45 seconds later. With Navarro being a GC threat, Mikel Landa’s Sky team hit the front in the peloton and started to reduce the advantage.

 

Albasini was clearly on his limit as they hit the second climb where Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) joined the chasers. The Swiss went straight to the front to work for his teammate and this was too much for Bakelants who was dropped.

 

Albasini swung off and it was left to Yates to set the pace with 23km to go when the group had put 10 seconds into the peloton and reduced the gap to the leaders to 25 seconds. In the peloton, Vasil Kiryienka was keeping things under control for Sky.

 

The chasers gradually approached the front duo which forced Denifl to up the pace. He was chasing the KOM points and had to go full gas, dropping Oomen in the process. The Dutchman was caught by the chasers while Denifl reached his goal by reaching the top as the lone leader. Cataldo, De Plus and Yates were first from the chasers just 10 seconds later.

 

The peloton sprinted to the top as everybody wanted to be in a good position for the descent and it was Phil Deignan who led the group down for Sky. Meanwhile, Denifl was caught by his chasers and the front group kept the gap stable at 20 seconds until they reached the intermediate sprint at the bottom where Cataldo led Denifl and Rolland across the line.

 

As soon as they hit the final climb with 11km to go, Denifl and Oomen were dropped and Deignan reduced the gap to 10 seconds. This prompted Navarro to attack and he immediately got clear, pushing his advantage over the peloton out to 30 seconds as he approached the top.

 

Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) attacked from the peloton but he was quickly passed when the GC riders started their battle. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) launched a bit attack but was closely marked by Alberto Contador, Mikel Landa, Sergio Henao, Samuel Sanchez, Rui Costa, Roman Kreuziger, Nairo Quintana and the rest of the contenders.

 

Navarro reached the top with a 15-second advantage over the peloton, with Yates leading Rolland across the line just a few seconds later. Sanchez tried to attack on the descent before Pinot took over but the group was relatively big when they reached the flat roads with 6km to go.

 

Roman Kreuziger briefly set the pace for Tinkoff but when he swung off, the peloton came to a standstill. This allowed Navarro to enter the final 4km with advantages of 7 and 20 seconds respectively.

 

Lotto wanted a sprint for Tony Gallopin and so Tim Wellens went to work. Meawhile, Rolland attacked from the chase group and together with Yates, he rejoined Navarro with less than 3km to go. De Plus and Cataldo also regained contact while a strong Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) bridged across from the peloton.

 

The peloton was just a few metres behind though and just before the flamme rouge, Wellens brought it back together. He quickly swung off and as the group came to a standstill, Arnold Jeannesson (Cofidis) went on the attack.

 

This was the perfect moment for Cummings. The Brit latched onto Jeannesson’s wheel and then sprinted past. He quickly got a big advantage and Yates who started to chase immediately couldn’t match his power. In the end, Cannondale tried to lead Simon Clarke out for the sprint but it was impossible to bring the Brit back and so Simon Gerrans had to settle for second after having beaten Fabio Felline in the final dash to the line.

 

Mikel Landa finished safely in the bunch and so he retained his 1-second advantage over Wilco Kelderman. Things will get much harder in tomorrow’s fourth stage which has a total of six climbs on a day full of ups and downs. In the finale, the riders will tackle the famous and brutally steep wall in Aia before they descend the final 13.1km to the finish in Orio. The climb is just 1.8km long but as it averages 12.22%, it is expected to do some damage.

 

A lumpy stage

After yesterday’s big battle between the climbers, the terrain was easier in stage 3 which brought the riders over 193.5km from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Lesaka. After a flat first half, the riders tackled two climbs at the midpoint and then descended to a lumpy second half. Inside the final 30km, they tackled three climbs in quick succession, with the final top coming just 9.1km from the finish. After a short descent, it was a flat run to the finish.

 

The 153 riders that reached the finish yesterday, were all present when the peloton rolled out of Vitoria-Gasteiz in dry weather. It was the usual fast start, but already after 8km of racing the break was formed when Blel Kadri (Ag2r), Stefan Denifl (IAM), Domingos Goncalves (Caja Rural), Sam Oomen (Giant-Alpecin) and Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension data) took off. The field showed no more interest in the chase and therefore the gap was already grown to 2.05 at the 15km mark and 2.40 after 42km of racing.

 

KOM points for Goncalves

The advantage reached 4.20 at the 42km mark and then stabilized. It reached an initial maximum of 5 minutes after 64km of racing and for a long time it was kept between the 4- and 5-minute marks.

 

As the peloton approached the first intermediate sprint battle, they briefly stepped off the gas, and therefore the gap had gone out to 5.24 before Teklehaimanot beat Denifl and Goncalves in the battle for the points after 87km of racing. A little later, Goncalves beat Denifl and Kadri in the first KOM sprint where the peloton crossed the line 4.28 later.

 

Puncture for Quintana

As they climbed the second climb, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) had a puncture and he had to chase hard to rejoin the peloton. Further up the road, Denifl beat Goncalves, Teklehaimanot and Oomen in the second KOM sprint.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE and Trek took the responsibility to chase with Christian Meier, Amets Txurruka and Kiel Reijnen and they had reduced the gap to 3.30 with 70km to go. It went out to 4.10 again but for a long time that trio kept the gap between 3.30 and 4.00 on day when the riders enjoyed some rare sunshine and so had less stress.

 

Trek and Orica-GreenEDGE up the pace

With 50km to go, the peloton upped the pace and reduced the gap to 3.25 and five kilometres later it was down to 2.45. This was the time for the GC teams to move forward and the fight for positions slowly started.

 

Trek added Peter Stetina to the chase work and this paid off as the gap was only 1.20 when Goncalves held off Denifl in the second intermediate sprint with 37km to go, with Kadri rolling across the line in third. Meanwhile, Reijnen swung off and it was Stetina, Meier and Txurruka who set the pace as they approached the first of the late climbs. The latter led the group onto the ascent where the dramatic finale started.

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