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After a great lead-out from McCarthy, Gatto easily won the sprint from a 40-rider group on stage 3 of the Vuelta a Andalucia, holding off Swift and Kreder; Swift is the new overall leader

Photo: Sirotti

OSCAR GATTO

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VUELTA A ANDALUCIA

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19.02.2016 @ 17:01 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Two days after the impressive stage win for Daniele Bennati, Oscar Gatto became the second Italian sprinter in the Tinkoff team to win a stage at the Vuelta a Andalucia. Having made it into a 40-rider group on the final climb, he was led out by Jay McCarthy in the sprint and easily held off Ben Swift (Sky) and Raymond Kreder (Roompot) in the final dash to the line. The Brit takes the leader’s jersey on the eve of the time trial.

 

Going into the Vuelta a Andalucia, all the attention regarding the Tinkoff team was focused on the team’s two GC riders Roman Kreuziger and Rafal Majka who are expected to strike in the weekend. However, after the first three sprint stages of the race, the team has been the dominant formation thanks to its two Italian fastmen Daniele Bennati and Oscar Gatto.

 

Bennati grabbed a rare chance to sprint for himself in the flat opening stage where he handled a technical finale perfectly to claim his first win in Tinkoff colours. Yesterday the team failed in the lead-out and lost the leader’s jersey but today they were back in the spotlight thanks to new signing Gatto who had been unfortunate to puncture out of the lead group yesterday.

 

Gatto dug deep to stay with the best on a late category 2 climb that created a huge selection and left just 40 riders to sprint for the win. He was accompanied by teammates Majka, Kreuziger and Jay McCarthy and the latter did a perfect job to set him up for the final dash to the line where he turned out to be a class of his own and easily grabbed his first win since joining the team less than two months ago.

 

After a frantic first part of the race, Movistar had brought back a very strong break just as they hit the bottom of the Puerto del Valle with 22km to go. The Spanish team was looking to set Juan Jose Lobato for a sprint win but disaster struck at the bottom of the ascent where the local hero suffered a puncture.

 

Instead, they turned their attention to Alejandro Valverde and so continued to set a fast pace with Imanol Erviti. Sky briefly came to the fore with Vasil Kiryienka before Ruben Fernandez upped the pace even more for Movistar.

 

The Spaniard created a huge selection as lots of riders lost contact before Movistar played their next card by sending Fernandez off in an attack. Wout Poels (Sky) joined him but the pair didn’t get any leeway.

 

Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) countered the move and while everybody was watching his other, he quickly got a big gap. A chase group with the likes of Wout Poels, Wilco Kelderman and Fernandez was briefly formed but they were quickly brought back.

 

As they hit the small descent halfway up the climb, Navarro had opened a big gap of around 30 seconds which Igor Anton (Dimension Data) tried to bridge across. The Basque got a solid advantage but in the peloton Kreuziger started to chase for Tinkoff.

 

Kiryienka quickly took over for Sky and he brought Anton back. However, Navarro did extremely well to push his advantage out to 35 seconds.

 

As the road again got steeper, Omar Fraile became the next Dimension Data to take off and he quickly reduced his deficit to Navarro to 20 seconds. While Gianni Moscon took over the chasing duties for Sky, the gap stabilized around that mark.

 

Navarro was first at the top of the climb followed by Fraile while Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) was first from the peloton, with Moscon taking fourth. At this point, Fraile was 18 seconds behind Navarro while the peloton was at around 30 seconds.

 

Fraile got closer to Navarro but as Kiryienka again came to the fore, the peloton slowly reduced the gap. With 9km to go, the two Spaniards joined forces but were only around 10 seconds ahead.

 

Kiryienka didn’t get any help and kept the gap at around 10 seconds. The gap had not been reduced when they entered the final 3km but now the two Spaniards finally started to lose ground.

 

With 1.5km to go, Tinkoff hit the front with Kreuziger, McCarthy and Gatto and as Sam Oomen took over for Giant-Alpecin, it was over for Navarro and Fraile just after the flamme rouge. Moscon tried to do the lead-out for Ben Swift but instead he had McCarthy and Gatto on his wheel.

 

That allowed McCarthy to do the perfect lead-out and when Gatto launched his sprint, the outcome was never in doubt. Swift was right behind the Italian but had no chance to come around and had to settle for second, with Raymond Kreder edging out  Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) for third.

 

As there are no bonus secons in the race, a lot of riders are in the same time and it is now Swift with the lowest sum of stage placings after Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was dropped in the finale of today’s stage. Hence, the Brit will wear the leader’s jersey in tomorrow’s crucial 21km time trial. It includes a mix of technical sections, short climbs and flat roads and will provide the first indication of who’s going to win overall.

 

A hilly stage

After yesterday’s reduced bunch sprint, the riders tackled a very similar stage on the third day as they covered 157.9km between the cities of Monachil and Padul. After a flat start, the riders tackled two smaller climb in the first half before they headed up a category 2 climb just after the midpoint. Then a long descent led to the bottom of the category 2 climb of Puerto del Valle which averages 4% over 7.6km but included much steeper sections at the bottom. From the top, only 15.1km of rolling terrain was left.

 

It was another cloudy day in Andalusia when the riders gathered for the start. Marc De Maar (Roompot) was absent as they rolled out in the neutral zone as the Dutchman was suffering from knee pain.

 

Nine strong riders escape

Like yesterday it was a very fast start with numerous attacks and it was difficult for anyone to escape. Six riders managed to get clear after 6km of fast racing, including two from Matrix Powertag, but they were brought back.

 

Instead, it was a big group that slowly managed to put 50 seconds into the peloton as Manuele Boaro (Tinkoff), Markel Irizar (Trek), Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Damiano Caruso (BMC), Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural), Maurits Lammertink (Roompot), Dimitri Claeys (Wanty) and Sergey Firsanov (Gazprom-Rusvelo) combined forces. However, they had a hard time getting a bigger advantage as Euskadi had missed the move and were chasing hard.

 

The break splits up

The gap was still only 52 seconds at the 15km mark and ten kilometres later it had even been reduced to 43 seconds. The pace was too much for Kenji Takubo (Matrix) as the Japananese abandoned the race.

 

As they hit the category 2 climb Alto Lucero, the front group splintered. Preidler, Lammertink and Claeys were left behind as the remaining six riders upped the pace. After 39km of fast racing, they had extended their advantage to 1.35. Caruso led Firsanov and Boaro over the top after an hour during which 43.3 hilly kilometres had been covered.

 

Mrozek bridges the gap

As they hit the second climb, Marcin Mrozek (CCC) and Jorge Cubero (Burgos) took off in pursuit and the former did an impressive performance to bridge the gap. Again Caruso took maximum points in the KOM sprint and was followed across the line by Mrozek and Firsanov.

 

Carthy beat Mrocek and Firsanov in the intermediate sprint after 54.8km of racing, just before Cubero and Mirko Tedeschi (Southeast) made it across to make it 9 leaders. The peloton finally slowed down a bit and the gap had gone out to 3.50 at the 75km mark.

 

Movistar take control

Movistar took the initiative to lead the chase and started to slowly bring it down. At the end of the second hour, the riders had averaged 40.2km/h and Movistar had already brought the gap down to 2.52 after 85km of racing.

 

At the bottom of the third climb, it was 2.30 and here Cofidis came to the fore to lend Movistar a hand. They reduced the gap down to just 1.20 with a huge acceleration and this forced the escapees to react. As a consequence, Tedeschi and Cubero were dropped.

 

The break is caught

Caruso beat Firsanov, Mrocek and Lindeman in the KOM sprint before the escapees again started to cooperate. However, they were only 50 seconds ahead at the first passage of the line after 117km of racing where Cubero and Tedeschi had been brought back.

 

Flavio Cardoso (Funvic) and Daiki Yasuhara (Matrix) left the race at the end of the third hour where the average speed had dropped to 40.1km/h. However, that was not indicative of the furious speed set by Movistar and as they descended to the bottom of the final climb, they accelerated even more. With 30km to go, the gap was only 25 seconds and with 24km to go, it was all back together for the big finale.

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