German sprinter Gerald Ciolek (Milram) managed to upset the Vuelta's more established sprinters and get himself a much deserved grand tour stage win.
Today's 202-kilometer stage led the riders in the Netherlands over a completely flat, narrow, and windy course. Even with the absence of hills, the riding was very treacherous, as riders fought each other for space on the tiny roads and had to deal with strong crosswinds and cobblestones as well.
A breakaway of five riders developed after just three kilometers, proving that at the beginning of a grand tour, riders are always very antsy.
Francisco José Martínez (Andalucía-Cajasur), Tom Leezer (Rabobank), Dominik Roels (Milram), Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil), and David Garcia (Xacobeo Galicia) managed to gain a maximum advantage of over seven minutes as the peloton, controlled by the Saxobank team of race leader Fabian Cancellara, let them go and slowly worked to reel them in.
With roughly 60 kilometers remaining, the sprinters' teams began to get hungry and sped the peloton down the road at over 50 kph. Teams Garmin, QuickStep, and Columbia were particularly interested for their sprinters, Tyler Farrar, Tom Boonen, and Andre Griepel, respectively.
Team Columbia is well known for having one of the most dominant leadout trains in the pro ranks. A "train" is how the riders work together—one rider in the front driving the pace until he can't anymore, then swinging off with another rider moving up to take his place, and so on, until 200 meters to go when the star sprinter on the team has a go at the finish line.
When the breakaway was caught with roughly 10 kilometers remaining, these trains began to form in earnest. Garmin was particularly interested to upset the cohesion of the Columbia riders.
However, none could deliver the final sprint, and Ciolek, who had few teammates around him, picked his positioning perfectly and jumped for the line with 200 meters remaining. His powerful surge was too much for Boonen, Farrar, and Griepel.
In a drag race for the line, Ciolek took the win ahead of Fabio Sabatini (Liquigas) and Roger Hammond (Cervelo), who was also without teammates to help him at the finish.
The hectic sprint produced a completely different result than what the stronger teams like Garmin and Columbia had worked for. They will be back tomorrow to try to set up a successful sprint as more flat roads await the riders before heading back into Spain.