Confident Degenkolb emerges from Vuelta as top sprinter

Former U23 world champ scores five Spanish stage wins to announce his arrival on the big stage

Photo: watson

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MILAN (VN) — John Degenkolb came away from the Vuelta a España with five wins and confidence for more. With top honors in Viana, Logroño, Alcañiz, Sanxenxo and Madrid – one year after his grand tour debut in the same event — the German proved his worth five times over.

“My career has gone one step ahead,” said Degenkolb, “and the next one will be the Tour de France.”

The 23-year-old led the charge for Dutch team Argos-Shimano, which now seems almost certain to step into the first division next year. The UCI is likely to hand it one of the 18 coveted WorldTour spots at the end of this year based on Argos’ 2012 results.

Degenkolb had five wins, plus fifth in his debut at Milan-San Remo, midway into the year, but Argos management overlooked him in its Tour team, instead selecting countryman Marcel Kittel.

“The team wanted to save him for the Vuelta, where the finishes were more difficult,” Hans Ruggenberg, journalist with The Netherlands’ De Telegraaf newspaper told VeloNews. “Not many riders can say they won five times in the Vuelta; it’s a big breakthrough.”

Degenkolb and Kittel account for 20 of Argos’ 22 wins this season: Degenkolb with 11, Kittel with nine.

The team raced as Skil-Shimano last year and began this season as Project 1t4i. On March 30, it announced that petroleum company Argos would take over title sponsorship. Tour boss Christian Prudhomme attended the sponsor announcement and the package appealed to him, helping Argos gain invitations to race the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. A first division license, with its automatic invites to the sport’s top events, would open the door for the team to plan its season without worrying over invitations.

“These two riders are the ticket to a WorldTour license,” said Ruggenberg, “and Degenkolb’s five wins will help them to it.”

Degenkolb told VeloNews earlier this year that he was working all the time on improvements to be ready in the big races.

“It’s important for me to improve on the climbs and to survive on the climbs,” he said. “In the end, I need to be the last sprinter to stay there and to win.”

He is used to winning. In 2008 in Varese, Italy, he captured the Under-23 world road race title. Riding for HTC-Highroad last year, he won two stages in the Critérium du Dauphiné. He said that those Dauphiné wins, one against Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), gave him an idea of what was possible in the Vuelta.

Up next is the world championship, but Degenkolb will realistically have his chance for a 12th win on October 7 at Paris-Tours. The race traditionally suits sprinters, having gone in favor of German Erik Zabel three times, and remains the last goal of his season. Next year, Degenkolb will likely build towards San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, and make his debut in the Tour.

“The Tour,” added Ruggenberg, “will be the big goal for him.”

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