German cycling fans found a reason to cheer when John Degenkolb won the second stage of the Criterium du Dauphine thanks to a late burst in an uphill finish on Tuesday.
The HTC-Highroad rider, who was second in last year’s under-23 world championships road race, outsprinted Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin of the Cofidis team in the final meters of a 1.4km hill in central Lyon at an average gradient of 4.8 percent.
Degenkolb said he was happy to put German cycling in the spotlight for good reasons after years of doping affairs involving former Tour de France champion Jan Ullrich, Patrik Sinkewitz and Matthias Kessler, with state television pulling out of the Tour amid a drugs scandal in 2007.
“The most important thing is to note that there are clean riders in Germany,” the 22-year-old Degenkolb told reporters. “There is a new generation, with the 27-year-old Paul Martens and Tony Martin too.”
On Tuesday, Martens finished fourth, while Martin, 26, claimed the prestigious Paris-Nice stage race earlier this month.
“They’re also from the new generation and we can make the future bright,” Degenkolb said.
Frenchman Sebastien Hinault took third place for AG2R-La Mondiale on Tuesday as several top riders had to dig deep to stay in front after being caught off guard earlier in the stage.
However, Degenkolb stayed alert in the final short climb when French champion Thomas Voeckler launched an early attack. He kept on the wheels of the Cofidis riders, who were looking to set up Dumoulin, before powering past the French rider to claim his most prestigious victory.
Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey and said he would defend it throughout the week, even though the Dauphine is often used as a warm-up race for the Tour de France.
“I don’t know how to take it easy on the bike,” he told reporters.
Frenchman Brice Feillu, Dutchman Marteen Tjallingii and Belgium’s Juergen van de Walle broke away after about 50km, opening a four-minute gap, but the peloton brutally upped the pace.
With the wind blowing sideways, several team leaders, including Australia’s Cadel Evans and Britain’s Bradley Wiggins, were trapped behind as the bunch was split in three.
Vinokourov’s Astana team worked hard in the first group as they sought to knock former world champion Evans out of overall contention.
Team Sky produced a huge effort to bring Wiggins and Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen back into the first bunch with 8km left.
The third stage is a 42.5km time trial, the same one that the Tour riders will tackle next month.