Vuelta a España - Kittel takes first win amid chaos
Fri, 26 Aug 11:28:00 2011
German youngster Marcel Kittel avoided a huge pile up take a maiden Grand Tour win with victory in stage seven of the Vuelta.
The talented Skil Shimano sprinter, 23, continued his fine season with another display of speed and strength as he held off stage six winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas), former world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and the experienced Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) to take the biggest win of his career.
It was the 13th victory of the season for Kittel, who last month won four stages of the Tour of Poland - including an unprecedented three consecutive wins in the first three days of the race.
But the finale of the lumpy 185km stage from Almaden to Talavera de la Reina was marred by a high-speed smash involving American sprinter Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) in the closing 100 metres.
Frantically trying to get on the wheel of the in-form Kittel, Farrar touched wheels with Poland's Michal Golas (Vacansoleil) and the pair went down, causing a melee of bodies and bikes in their wake.
Lampre's Michele Scarponi, one of the race favourites, was one of around 15 riders to be thrown from his bike - and although the veteran Italian was unhurt, he looked more than a little ruffled as he completed the stage.
The crash also affected defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas), who could be seen slumped against the crash barrier.
All the riders completed the stage - including the bruised Farrar and a heavily bloodied Golas, both of whom since taken to hospital for X-rays - but it remains to be seen if there will be any withdrawals from the race ahead of Saturday's stage eight.
Red jersey Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) avoided the carnage to retain his overall lead of 15 seconds over Spain's Daniel Moreno (Katusha). Moreno's team-mate Joaquim Rodriguez suffered a few minor cuts to his hand after also being caught up in the accident.
It was a dramatic close to what had been a rather uneventful day in the Vuelta.
A break of four riders - Steve Houanard (Ag2R), Antonio Cabello (Andalucia), Luis Mate and Julian Fouchard (both Cofidis) - jumped clear of the peloton in the opening kilometre and managed to open up a maximum advantage of nine minutes as the bunch rolled along at a low average speed of around 35 km/h.
In bright sun but cooler temperatures, the peloton managed to reel in the break with around 10km left to ride - despite a late solo rally by Frenchman Fouchard.
A hectic closing 5km saw the teams of the sprinters jostling for position - but it was Kittel's Skil Shimano who had the upper hand following a final hairpin bend ahead of the 1km-to-go banner.
With two team-mates expertly leading him out, Kittel was already well on his way to victory when the crash occurred in the bunch.
As well as Farrar, Golas, Rodriguez and Scarponi, the pile-up did for the chances of stage three winner Pablo Lastras (Movistar) and fellow Spaniard Vicente Reynes (Omega Pharma-Lotto) - as well as a dozen other riders.
But it was all smiles for neo-pro Kittel, who showed the world just why he has been tipped as the most likely sprinter to threaten Mark Cavendish's stronghold on the sport.
The victory was also a first in Grand Tours for Skil Shimano after six years of racing.
Sagan's second place was enough to send the Slovakian to the top of the points classification.
The Vuelta continues on Saturday with the mountainous 177km stage eight from Talavera de le Reina to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, which features two second-category climbs, the first-category Mijares pass and a final third-category steep rise to the finish.
Final moments of Vuelta a Espana: stage seven