ALCANIZ, Spain (AFP) –
German John Degenkolb notched up a hat-trick in the Vuelta on Friday, winning a crash-blighted seventh stage but leaving Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez in the overall lead.
Degenkolb crossed the line ahead of Italian Elio Viviani of Liquigas and Australian Allan Davis of Orica Greenedge after a 164km stage from Huelva to Alcaniz in northeastern Spain.
The 23-year-old German of the Argos-Shimano team had already tasted victory in the second and fifth stages of the Tour of Spain, which was overshadowed Friday by news of Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour de France victories over doping charges.
In the latest stage of the Vuelta, a crash threw a spanner in the works for Colombian Rigoberto Uran, taking down half a dozen racers in the peloton and dragging him from overall fourth position to 12th.
Rodriguez keeps the red jersey, but looking over his shoulder are second-placed Briton Chris Froome of Sky Team 10 seconds behind, and in third Spaniard Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank lagging by 36 seconds.
Two-time Tour de France champion Contador, who won the 2008 tour, has been back in the saddle since August 6 after a backdated two-year doping ban over a urine test in the 2010 Tour de France that detected traces of banned substance clenbuterol.
The 29-year-old has vehemently denied knowingly taking performance-enhancing substances, blaming instead a contaminated steak he ate on the eve of the test.
Contador said he was satisfied with his first week.
“I am happy with the way this first part of the race has gone. I felt good in Valdezcaray (fourth stage) and I managed to avoid being caught in the wind,” he said.
“In yesterday’s race I didn’t feel good because of cramps. But you have to remember I have gone through long weeks without competing. So it’s normal I suffer a bit at first.”
Before setting out on Friday’s race, Contador praised Armstrong’s “very strong” character and battle against cancer Friday but refused comment on the American’s alleged doping.
“I don’t know much about it and I have not read about the case,” Contador told journalists.
“But he has a good head on his shoulders and a very strong character that enabled him to confront his illness with absolute determination,” said Contador.
“As for the proceedings, I don’t want to comment as I have been told they are not finished,” he said.
The start of Spanish tour’s seventh stage was dominated by a breakaway by four men — Spaniards Javier Aramendia of Caja Rural and Pablo Lechuga of Andalucia, Czech Frantisek Rabon of Omega-Pharma and Dutchman Bertjan Lindeman of Vacansoleil.
They joined forces from the third kilometre and managed to build up a lead of up to five minutes over the peloton.
With 29km to go to the end, the quartet was reduced to a trio as Lechuga failed to keep up the pace under pressure from repeated attacks by Rabon and Lindeman.
But with 15km left, the trio also had to throw in the towel as the peloton reined them in.
On Saturday, the cyclists face a mountainous 174km eighth stage from Lleida to the summit of Gallina in Andorra, terrain that could bring the favourites to the fore again.