As reported late in the day yesterday, our man @jamvelo correctly predicted that Nibali had committed Vuelta suicide by holding on to his team car after the late crash on stage 2. Duly, Nibali has been kicked out of the tour. His team’s director has also been turfed out, and even the car onto which he held took flak; it’s been banned from the race for the next three stages, like a delinquent Herbie. So Astana are, it seems, a bunch of total one-cars.
The rest of the riders, however, rolled merrily on, and stage 3 was a rosy one for the pro-continental Spaniards at Caja-Rural. Their man Omar Fraile nudged his way into a speeding eight-man breakaway, and hit the summit first on today’s cat 3 and cat 1 climbs. This means he’ll be squeezing his slight frame into the fetching blue polka dots tomorrow, as King of the Mountains. No mean feat for a pro continental team. It looked like Sylvain Chavanel might turn back the tides of fortune for IAM, too, with a crafty attack on the descent of the Puerto del Leon, but the breakaway dragged him back with some force. However, he’s not empty handed: he took the big bucks at the intermediate sprint, and was judged the most combative rider. Allez Chava!
It was not such a fine day, though, for Nacer Bouhanni. This season Bouhanni has hit the deck with more consistency than a croupier, and after coming off again yesterday there was much speculation as to how he would be riding today. But, with just over 40km left, he slid out yet again and once more took to the floor — and on one of the only sprint days of this Vuelta, this was devastating news for Team Cofidis. It was similarly bad news for viewers — it’s becoming tiresome to see Bouhanni sulk his way through stages after coming off. It must be a miserable experience, certainly, but Bouhanni’s behaviour is nothing short of petulant, and it makes him a hard rider to root for (it’s also part of the reason he left team FDJ a couple of years ago — Marc Madiot takes no crap).
However, like a storm cloud on a sunny day, Bouhanni rolled on, and stuck around to contest the inevitable sprint finish in Málaga. In the final few kilometres it was Giant-Alpecin riding on the front for the plucky, happy-go-lucky John Degenkolb. It was a textbook lead-out for John-boy, but today was proof that opportunistic riding and chancy slipstreaming can, on occasion, outdo the strongest train. Degenkolb sprinted hard, but Bouhanni crept past on one side for second, and on the other, taking first… Peter Sagan.
Sagan has had the curse of ‘always the bridesmaid’ hanging over him for some time now. The young Slovak counts more seconds than a clock, but today he got his first grand tour first since the seventh stage of the 2013 Tour de France (hard to believe, isn’t it?). He looked ecstatic, which is hardly surprising given the pressure put on him by Oleg Tinkoff. No doubt he’ll be promised an absurdly expensive sports car over dinner tonight. Great work, Sagan.
Esteban Chaves is still snugly fitted in a red jersey for the time being, a truly positive change of winds for Orica-GreenEdge, whose luck has been mixed this season. He also looks good to hold on to it for the next few days, luck permitting. Tomorrow’s stage is mostly flat, but has a lumpy finish. Expect the ever-on-form Sagan to be back in the mix, but also look to the strong Aussie Caleb Ewan — who missed the sprint today — to have a good go for it on the attack on behalf of Orica. Marmeladrome out.