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After the early break was caught less than 500m from the line, van Poppel came back from a late puncture to pass Impey in the bunch sprint on stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana; Aru defended the lead

Photo: Trek Factory Racing

ASTANA - PREMIER TECH

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DANNY VAN POPPEL

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DARYL IMPEY

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TOSH VAN DER SANDE

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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03.09.2015 @ 18:09 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Danny van Poppel (Trek) finally got the chance to sprint when stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana came down to a hectic bunch kick after a dramatic finale and the Dutchman immediately delivered the goods by taking the biggest win of his career. Despite suffering a puncture with 10km to go, he managed to get back to the front in time for the final dash to the line and when the early break was caught less than 500m from the finish, he narrowly passed Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) to take the biggest win of his career. Fabio Aru (Astana) defended the overall lead.

 

With extremely strong showings in late July and early August, Danny van Poppel had created lofty expectations for his Vuelta a Espana debut but the race didn’t get off to the best start for the fast Dutchman who suffered in the heat in the first week. Hence, he never got the chance to sprint in the first week of the race, voluntarily giving the role of lead sprinter to teammate Jasper Stuyven.

 

However, van Poppel has gradually improved and by riding in the breakaway in stage 9, he clearly proved that he is back at 100%. Hence, he was fired up for today’s stage 12 which could be the final chance for the sprinters before Madrid.

 

Van Poppel asked his teammates to work with Giant-Alpecin to bring back the early break and that proved to be a good decision. In the end, the Dutchman timed his sprint perfectly to take his first victory at the WorldTour level.

 

However, it was definitely not a foregone conclusion that the Dutchman would end up with the stage win. A strong 5-rider breakaway with with Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep), Miguel Angel Rubiano (Colombia), Jaco Venter (MTN-Qhubeka), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) turned out to be surprisingly hard to catch and for a long time, it looked like they would stay away. With 20km to go, the sprint teams were panicking as the gap was still 1.45 and not really coming down.

 

Hence, Giant-Alpecin dug into their lead-out reserves when they asked Zico Waeytens to work with Thierry Hupond who had been chasing all day. Markel Irizar and Riccardo Zoidl both took huge turns for Trek and Lampre-Merida were going full gas with no less than four riders, Ilya Koshevoy, Tsgabu Grmay, Mattia Cattaneo and Valerio Conti.

 

With 15km to go, they had managed to bring the gap down to 1.20 but the chasers were now blowing up. Zoidl, Hupond, Waeytens and the four Lampre riders disappeared and instead Irizar was working with the Lampre duo of Ruben Plaza and Kristijan Durasek as they approached the final 10km.

 

This is when disaster struck for van Poppel who suffered a puncture just 11km from the finish. With the gap still 55 seconds, the team could not stop the chase work and instead the Dutchman was forced to chase on his own. He managed to rejoin the group and Frank Schleck and Boy van Poppel dropped back to help jim get back to the front.

 

Meanwhile, Lampre-Merida and GiantAlpecin had blown up and it was Haimar Zubeldia and Irizar whp were chasing hard with 8km to go where the gap was still 55 seconds. Giant-Alpecin put Johannes Fröhlinger on the front and Durasek came back to take another turn. That was enough to bring the gap down to 30 seconds with 5km to go.

 

Lampre-Merida, Giant-Alpecin and Trek all blew up and so BMC felt obliged to take over. Amael Moinard and Alessandro De Marchi took some huge turns on the front but the gap was still 24 seconds with 3km to go.

 

This is when the attacking started in the front group as Gougeard took off. Bouet and Lindeman quickly reacted while Venter and Rubiano also made it back. However, the latter two were clearly on their limit and no longer able to contribute to the pace-setting.

 

With 2km to go, it was still 17 seconds and 500m later, Venter came through for another turn. Due to the confusion, he got a small gap and he was the lone leader as he passed the flamme rouge.

 

Bouet took off in pursuit while the rest of the group was brought back, with FDJ now setting the pace. Bouet made it back to the lone South African with 700m to go but it was all in vain. Moments later they were brought back and the scene was set for a hugely confusing bunch sprint.

 

Luka Mezgec (Giant-Alpecin) powered down the left-hand side of the road but his sprinter John Degenkolb was not on his wheel. Instead, it was Dennis van Winden who delivered Tom Van Asbroeck in the perfect position and the Belgian powered down the uphill finishing straight on the front.

 

Meanwhile, Degenkolb was looking for a gap but he never found an opening. Instead, it was Daryl Impey who passed the fading Van Asbroeck before van Poppel came fast from behind to pass the South African and claim the win. Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) finished strongly to take third.

 

Fabio Aru finished safely in the bunch and so defended the overall lead. He goes into stage 13 with a 27-second advantage over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and should get another relatively easy day in the saddle tomorrow. The course is very hilly with two category 3 and one category 1 climb and even though the second half is mainly descending, it looks like a good day for a breakaway or a reduced bunch sprint.

 

One for the sprinters

After yesterday’s queen stage, it was back into flatter terrain for stage 12 which brought the riders over 173km from Escaldes-Engordany in Andorra back to Spain and the city of Lleida. After a descending start, the riders tackled 15km category 2 climb in the first half but from there the roads were almost always slightly descending until the riders hit the final 300m that were uphill at 6.5%.

 

It was a cloudy but dry day when the riders gathered for the start in Andorra. One rider was missing as Chris Froome (Sky) broke his foot in yesterday’s crash and has been forced to withdraw.

 

Five riders get clear

Right from the start a Europcar rider went on the attack after two punctures had delayed the start for a while. Seven riders got clear but in the end it was a five-rider group with Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep), Miguel Angel Rubiano (Colombia), Jaco Venter (MTN-Qhubeka), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) that emerged with a 20-second advantage after 15km of fast racing.

 

The peloton slowed down and with Astana riding on the front, they allowed the gap to go out to 2.40 after 30 minutes of racing. However, Giant-Alpecin quickly took control and as they hit the climb, the escapees were only 3 minutes ahead.

 

Trek come to the fore

The gap stayed relatively stable for most of the ascent but near the summit, the escapees increased their advantage. Bouet led Lindeman and Rubiano over the top while Giant-Alpecin was first from the peloton 5.12 later.

 

The gap went out to 5.37 before Trek started to work with the German team but the gap still went out to a maximum of 5.50 before it started to come down. The peloton split into several groups on the descent but a regrouping took place when they were back on flat roads. Meanwhile, the gap continued to drop and it was down to 4.14 at the 96km mark.

 

The gap comes down

Tom Stamsnijder, Hupond (Giant-Alpecin) and Irizar (Trek) were trading pulls on the front and the gap was coming down nicely. As they entered the final 60km, it was down to 3 minutes and everything seemed to be under control.

 

That’s when the escapees started to get some momentum as they hit a hard uncategorized climb. They made use of the tougher terrain to stabilize the situation even though the peloton was still chasing hard and riders were getting into difficulty in the bunch.

 

Lampre-Merida start to chase

As they started the descent, the gap quickly came down to 2.30 and now Zoidl also started to work for Trek. However, the situation again stabilized and the gap had not come down at all as they entered the final 40km.

 

The sprint teams started to realize the danger and were clearly chasing full gas. Nonetheless, the gap was still 2.15 with 30km to go where Lampre-Merida started to work with Conti. Meanwhile, Rubiano led Bouet and Venter across the line in the intermediate sprint.

 

With 23km to go, the gap was still 2 minutes and Lampre-Merida were now adding more firepower to the chase. Grmay started to work and later Catteneo and Koshevoy also came to the fore. Stamsnijder blew up and was replaced by Waeytens but it was still a 1.45 gap when the riders entered the final 20km, setting the scene for an entertaining finale.

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