Joaquim Rodriguez won the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya for a second time on Sunday, when the Katusha rider defended his slender overnight lead to pip fellow Spaniard Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo into second.
Home favorite and 2010 champion Rodriguez had a four-second lead going into the last and shortest of the Volta’s seven stages, a rain-soaked 121km ride around Barcelona’s Montjuic hill.
Contador, a two-time Tour de France winner, mounted a half-hearted attack about 2km out, but Rodriguez — known as purito, “little cigar,” due to his fondness for the rolled tobacco — easily reined him in and all the top riders finished bunched together.
They were about two minutes behind Dutch stage winner Lieuwe Westra of Astana, while BMC Racing rider Tejay van Garderen of the US was third overall, three seconds behind Contador.
“Anything could happen right up to the last meter,” Rodriguez said. “A crash or a puncture at the wrong moment could have been decisive.”
“The team were really good, though, they were with me all the way to the last minute,” the 34-year-old Catalan added.
Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who was returning to competition after a back injury and had said he was unlikely to push for victory on the final day, finished 17 seconds off the lead in sixth, matching his overnight position.
The Briton took a tumble around the 58km mark, but suffered only minor injuries, Sky Pro cycling sports director Nicolas Portal said.
“He’s got a small cut to his knee and has lost a bit of skin on his thigh and arm, but nothing that won’t heal in a few days time or hamper his training,” Portal said on Sky’s Web site.
“Froomey will definitely have benefited from this week and it’s got him back into swing of things from a racing point of view. Seventeen seconds is not a lot at all and if there had been a time trial here he might have even won,” Portal added.
Froome sat out this month’s Tirreno-Adriatico — won in impressive fashion by Contador — because of lower back pain. The British rider eased to victory in last year’s Tour de France and finished the three-week race more than six minutes ahead of fourth-placed Contador, who is expected to mount more of a challenge in this year’s edition.
In Sunday’s Volta, riders had to cope with diverse weather conditions across the region for the 94th edition of the race that included snow and high winds, and rain beating down in the Catalan capital for the final stage.
There was little chance to attack on the slippery descents, with most of the top riders opting for caution, and organizers shortened the finishing circuit by 600m to avoid the most dangerous sections of road.
John Degenkolb of Germany edged Frenchman Arnaud Demare by half-a-wheel in a crash-marred mass sprint to win the Gent-Wevelgem World Tour classic on Sunday.
Peter Sagan, who had already won the E3 Harelbeke on Friday, took third place in the wild sprint finish, with Andre Greipel and several others involved in the crash.
Degenkolb paced his race perfectly and stayed hidden in the pack until it mattered, hitting the front with 100m to go. Demare moved alongside the German, but timed his finish badly, coming just short.
One week after suffering a flat tire in the finale of the Milan-SanRemo classic, Degenkolb was not to be denied on Sunday.
“In the sprint, I remained calm and picked the right moment to make my move,” the German said, lauding his Giant-Shimano teammates for shielding him throughout the race and bringing him in prime position to the last 250m.
“It was a super race. We controlled it all,” said the 25-year-old Degenkolb, who earned the biggest victory of his career. “I am lucky to have such a team.”
It was the second of three classics in western Belgium, with the Ronde of Flanders set for Sunday.
The 233km Gent-Wevelgem passed many of the famous battlefields and memorials of World War I, which marks its centennial this summer.
Sunday’s classic opened up with 40km, to go when some of the favorites made their move on the Kemmel, the penultimate of nine hills on the circuit.
Fabian Cancellara sought to throw off the sprinters, but failed to shake riders like Peter Sagan, Greipel, Degenkolb and Tom Boonen.
Belgian champion Stein Devolder led a break of a trio for 15km, but the top teams reined them in with about one kilometer to go.