Bardet wins Vuelta’s 14th stage, Eiking limits the damage

8 Comments

PICO VILLUERCAS, Spain – Four years later, Romain Bardet can again savor a win at a Grand Tour.

The 30-year-old rider ended his wait on Saturday when he won the mountainous 14th stage of the Spanish Vuelta.

Previously seen as one of France’s best bets to win the Tour de France, Bardet finished the 2016 Tour runner-up and was third in the great race in 2017 – the same year he won his last of three stages at the Tour.

Since then, he had not won a stage at a major race, while again coming so close at the 2018 World Championships when he finished second behind Alejandro Valverde.

“We try to do our best every day and this stage win is an amazing one. It’s been a long wait,” Bardet said. “I didn’t think about it today, I just focused on giving it my all. It went well from the start.”

The DSM leader won the 165.7-kilometer (103-mile) stage in western Spain in 4 hours, 20 minutes, 36 seconds after he dropped the last of his companions in a breakaway on the day’s third climb to the finish, atop the category-one Pico Villuercas.

Back in the peloton, surprise leader Odd Christian Eiking did well to limit the damage to his overall advantage with one week remaining.

Eiking, a Norwegian rider for Intermarche-Wanty, ensured that he will wear the red jersey for a fifth consecutive day after clinging to the tail end of the group of the hardiest general classification riders as the pace picked up on the final ascent.

Eiking said before Saturday’s stage that if two-time defending champion Primoz Roglic wanted to go on the attack, he would likely have a hard time holding him off.

Roglic ceded the race lead on Stage 10 when he fell, losing time to riders in a breakaway group that included Eiking.

But Eiking’s rivals did not take advantage of difficult hilly terrain prior to Saturday’s final ascent. And when Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma, Enric Mas’ Movistar and Guillaume Martin’s Cofidis all took turns attacking over the final uphill kilometers, Eiking was not to be broken.

Roglic could only carve 20 seconds from Eiking’s lead and remained third overall at 1 minute, 36 seconds behind.

Martin is second at :54 back; Mas fourth at 2:11.

“I felt it was under control most of the day and I hoped it wouldn’t be too hard in the final climb,” Eiking said. “It wasn’t too steep, so I gambled, trying to stay as much as possible on the wheels.”

Eiking felt confident that he could keep the race lead on Sunday, when riders face 197.5 kilometers (122.7 miles) and four climbs between Navalmoral de la Mata and El Barraco.

“My legs feel quite good,” he said.

The breakaway group of 18 riders, none in contention for the overall lead, opened up a large gap over the peloton early on.

Nicolas Prodhomme led the race by a minute as he started the final 14-kilometer (8.6-mile) climb. But he quickly lost the advantage. Bardet powered past him and fellow pursuer Andrey Zeits with 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) left.

Bardet crossed the finish line 44 seconds ahead of Jesus Herrada. Jay Vine was third after he recovered from a nasty fall while he was receiving assistance from a car.

“No one wanted to commit in the breakaway, so I had a really hard time to catch the riders at the front,” Bardet said. “But at the end I think we played it smartly with my sports director, who told me exactly when to attack, at the steepest part.”

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

4 Comments

ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

5 Comments

ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”