Talented young German sprinter John Degenkolb took the first Grand Tour stage of his career with a late all-out charge in the Vuelta a Espana on Sunday.
Australian paceman Allan Davis was second, hammering the handlebars in frustration as he crossed the line in Viana, Spain, with Britain’s Ben Swift third in a bunch sprint that decided the 181.4km stage.
Spain’s Jonathan Castroviejo of the Movistar team remained the overall leader.
Argos-Shimano’s Degenkolb was delighted with what he regarded as a breakthrough win in his first Grand Tour.
“A finish like that called for pure power, which is what suits my kind of racing, not just speed, and after teammate Koen de Koert had dropped me off with 200m to go there was just me, Davis and Swift up there for the sprint,” the 23-year-old told reporters. “It’s great to get a win so soon for the team, we came here looking for just one victory and now we’ve got that in the bag the pressure is off. Maybe more will come after these next two mountainous stages.”
Asked if he was disappointed not to take part in the Tour de France after teammate and fellow sprinter Marcel Kittel of Germany had to abandon, Degenkolb said: “I was disappointed he didn’t win a stage, he’s a good friend.”
“Hopefully, we’ll both go to the Tour next year and we’ll both have something to celebrate there,” he added.
The hilly second stage from Pamplona to Viana, which was run in soaring temperatures, saw Spaniards Javier Aramendi and Javier Chacon, and Russian Mikhail Ignatyev go clear in the first hour.
After Chacon dropped back with 30km to go, overall contender Alberto Contador of Spain made a surprise dash at an intermediate sprint to snatch a two-second time bonus.
“I thought I might as well try for it, it wasn’t too much effort and I was in a good position anyway,” the favorite to win the Vuelta told reporters. “I was up there at the front of the bunch with Niki Sorensen. There was an opportunity and I took it.”
“Grand Tours are sometimes won and lost by seconds, and if I can get another two or six seconds in another sprint like that, I will,” added Contador, who returned from a doping ban earlier this month.
The third stage was to be the first summit finish of the race, on Mount Arrate in the Basque Country.
“Coming so soon after the start, this climb won’t decide who’s going to win the race, but we’ll start to see who could lose it,” said Team Sky’s Chris Froome, the runner-up last year.
The Vuelta a Espana finishes in Madrid on Sept. 9.