UAE Team Emirates tackled the second road stage of this year’s Vuelta a Espana with a solid performance that saw the team’s young Italian sprinter, Simone Consonni, contest a fast sprint finish after nearly five hours of racing.
The 23-year-old Italian finished fifth, with Quick-Step Floors rider Elia Viviani triumphant.
Team leader Fabio Aru continued to build on his form and crossed the line just behind the sprinters to move into 18th position in the GC standings.
The 178.2km route, which ran from the coastal town of Mijas to Alhaurin de la Torre was always going to favour the sprinters, despite featuring one category one and one category two climb over the Puerto del Madrono and Puerto Viento respectively.
The pace was high throughout the day and the early breakaway riders were only given a short leash before they were finally reeled back in over the last 10kms of the race, allowing the sprinters in the pack to contest the podium.
Consonni got himself into a great position during the ‘flame rouge’ and battled hard over the final 200m – against a world class field of fast men –to take a well-earned fifth spot behind Italian icon Viviani who won the stage in 4:48:12”.
Commenting on his top five finish, Consonni said: “I’m pretty satisfied, especially because I’ve had some tough days to contend with in these early stages.
“I did my best to avoid being dropped on the climbs today and had great support from my teammates. I succeeded in being in the peloton for the sprint and in achieving a fifth place, which is a good result for me as it’s my first sprint in a Grand Tour.”
Further back in the peloton, UAE Team Emirates’ domestiques worked tirelessly to protect their GC leader Aru who, despite carrying light abrasions to his right leg from the previous day’s crash, kept himself in the mix during the long flat run in to the finish to gain a respectable position on day three of La Vuelta.
Stage 4 is another hilly day for the peloton and features the second of nine summit finishes. The route leaves the Costa del Sol from Velez-Malaga and runs for 162km to Sierra de la Alfaguara via an inland course that includes two category one climbs; the first over the Alta de la Cabra Montes and the second up the Puerto del Alfacar to the finish line, which sits 1,440m above sea level.
Quick-Step Floors rider Viviani displayed his sprinting prowess at Alhaurin de la Torre to claim his first La Vuelta stage win and his 16th of the season.
Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski retained the leader’s red jersey and holds a 14-second lead over Spain’s stage two winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), with Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman third in the general classification.
An early breakaway led by Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Pierre Rolland (Education First-Drapac) and Hector Saez (Euskadi-Murias) opened up a four minute and eight seconds lead over the peloton after 34 kilometres.
But Viviani’s Quick-Step Floors team drove the main bunch and with 93km to go the gap was cut to two minutes.
Victor Campenaerts and Jelle Wallays (Lotto-Soudal), Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) attacked the leading pack with 45km to go and bridged the gap further.
Jordi Simon (Burgos-BH) was unsuccessful with a couple of attacks and after Campenaerts crashed 23km from the finish, Postlberger hit the front on his own.
Austrian Postlberger held a 25 second lead with 15km to go, but was caught by the peloton with 6km left and Viviani emerged strongest in the dash for the line.
Movistar’s Valverde put a disappointing Tour de France behind him by holding off race leader Kwiatkowski in the final 50 metres of the 163.5km second stage from Marbella to Caminito del Rey.
“I had an extremely difficult Tour de France and I didn’t have all the sensations I wanted,” Valverde told Eurosport after delighting the home fans.
“So I was basically training hard to make it for La Vuelta. Thankfully our plan succeeded and I’m really happy to take this victory because I just couldn’t have done it any earlier.
“I calculated really well the distance to go and just tried to keep something back for the finish.”
An early attack saw a seven-strong group break away from the peloton but that was down to two, Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Pierre Rolland (Education First-Drapac), with 20km to go.
The pair were gradually reeled in and Valverde showed his strength to out-sprint Kwiatkowski, with Laurens De Plus (Quick-Step Floors) finishing third, three seconds back.
Time trial winner Rohan Dennis (BMC) had a difficult day, suffering an early puncture before being dropped with 17km to go as the pace intensified.
Kwiatkowski, the Pole who finished second in Saturday’s opening time-trial, holds a 14-second advantage over Valverde heading into Monday’s 178.2km stage between Mijas and Alhaurin de la Torre.