Wednesday, May 22, 2024

La Vuelta 2019 – Stage 3; Ibi > Alicante, Sam Bennett Storms In

Two 3rd category climbs were expected to make life difficult for the sprinters on this flat 186km stage, which was anticipated to be La Vuelta’s first mass finish...


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Café-bar Polmar in Polop is how all bars should be; friendly, a mixed clientele, cold beer, whichever spirit or wine you can think of, good coffee and great tapas – not least of which is the tortilla verdura [vegetable].

It’s well worth the forced march up from Al’s to the village – and where our Day One and Two ramblings and pictures were put together.

Sam Bennett
Photo©Ed Hood

The owner, Javi is a mountain bike man so knows his cycling as well as serving the best tortilla I’ve ever tasted.

Breakfast over, vamos!

* * *

Stage Three heads back into the hills; Ibi to Alicante over 188 kilometres, not as tough as Stage Two but with two third cat. climbs, the Puertos de Biar and Tibo – due to the geography of the stage we chose the latter.

It’s 714 metres high, 4.6 kilometres long with an average gradient of 5.8%.

We were there in plenty of time and the crowds weren’t big. Those that were there were well behaved – you don’t mess with Las Unidades de Intervención Policial (the National Police, or UIP).

The UIP (riot police) keep an eye on VV pal Al Hamilton and his cameras. Photo©Ed Hood

They’re all tall, fit, tough-looking young men, implacable in sharp, black uniforms behind their shades – in the pecking order of multiple Spanish police organisations they are ‘the Boys.’

Photo©Ed Hood

Then the motorbikes appear; more and more of them, police, routing, press, service, more police…

All driven with flourish at what would appear to be a much higher speed than is really necessary.

Photo©Ed Hood

And then there are those bizarre twin front-wheeled jobs; Yamaha Nikens.

All part of the ritual of waiting on the race – how many Grand Tour stages have I seen? Dozens, maybe hundreds – but there’s still that buzz of anticipation which the bikes generate; green then yellow flags on the crash bars of the police motos as the race gets nearer with red flags meaning it’s imminent.

The last wave of photog bikes passes then it’s the two slow moving police motos… 

Photo©Ed Hood

First over the Puerto was Burgos-BH man Angel Madrazo, defending his mountains jersey with gusto – a big deal for a low budget pro continental team.

In his post-race interviews he wears big glasses and bears a sneaking resemblance to ‘Fearless Fly,’ however Martin reckons Angel is more of a ‘Chicken Little.’

Photo©Ed Hood

The peloton wasn’t far behind with Bora and Movistar to the fore – Bora keen to keep it together for Sam Bennett and the Spanish team keeping ‘Bala’ up front for the technical decent.

Sam Bennett
World Champion Alejandro Valverde is always popular here. Photo©Martin Williamson

Quintana and Roche were both ‘up there’ too, always wary of splits – you burn more watts riding up front, but a hell of a lot more if you have to chase like a demon to re-join and you can take less risks.

Sam Bennett
Race Leader Nico Roche in red. Photo©Martin Williamson
Sam Bennett
John Degenkolb wasn’t to the fore up the climb. Photo©Martin Williamson
Sam Bennett
Tim Declercq hollers in the radio for his teammates to “WAIT!”. Photo©Martin Williamson

Deceuninck’s big strongman, ‘Tim the Tractor’ Declercq was on his radio, marshalling his troops for the drop off the Puerto to the coast and the finale for his fast man, Fabio Jakobsen.

Sam Bennett
Sam Bennett tucked in the middle of the group. Photo©Martin Williamson

On Stage Two we saw Sam Bennett way off the back, looking like death and today he was going ‘deep’ to stay in the big group but in true top sprinter fashion when he saw that red kite, the lactic dissolved and he was in a class of his own to take the stage with aplomb.  

Photo©Ed Hood

It perhaps wasn’t a surprise to see the Groupama F de J guys off the back, the team has few expectations here.

But Ineos Dutch Monument winner, Wout Poels isn’t a man you’d expect to see bringing up the rear.

Argentinean Champion, Max Richeze was back there too, he would get back up to do his job for Jakobsen and take sixth on the stage himself when the Dutch Champion’s finale went awry.