Keukeleire sprints to a stunning victory
                   on stage 12 of La Vuelta a Espana 

Tour of Slovenia stage winner Jens Keukeleire finished off a perfect day to take a sprint victory on stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana today, hitting out early to finish well clear of the reduced bunch. 

ORICA-BikeExchange hit the finale in numbers and a great team performance was brought home by 26-year-old Keukeleire after Briton Simon Yates covered late moves and Australian Damien Howson executed the lead out.

“The first thing I thought about (after crossing the line) was my girlfriend and my son who are here today,” said Keukeleire. “It has only been a month since I became a father for the first time and they’ve been here the last couple of days, so to get my first GrandTour win in front of them is amazing.”

“I’ve been feeling pretty good for the last couple of days and we knew that today was going to be a hard stage and we decided this morning if I was still there in the finale we could go for it.

“I am really happy that the team gives me this opportunity because understandably when you have guys in good positions on the general classification it’s not easy to give everyone a chance and I’m very grateful.

“The first time over the climb (within the finishing laps) I was on my limit and thought I would never make it over again, but I felt a lot better the second time. It’s amazing and I’m very happy that I was able to finish off the work of the team.”

Colombian general classification contender Esteban Chaves remains in fourth overall with stage six winner Yates also finishing at the front and retaining seventh place going in to tomorrow’s stage 13.

Sport director Neil Stephens was delighted with the win and praised the selfless work and attitude of the team.

“It was a really special outcome today,” said Stephens. “In the team meeting this morning we said that our main goal is obviously the general classification.”

“Everyone has noticed that Jens (Keukeleire) has been recovering well and going about his work with relative ease and we all agreed that if it came to a reduced bunch then Jens should go for it.

“In a way, we went one step further because everyone rallied around Jens in the finale to help him pull off the win. It was a great win for the workers and a great win for the team all round.

“I think Jens felt honoured that his teammates recognised the fact that he was going well and the stage suited him and the victory is maybe a way to repay that confidence. Everyone felt a special feeling with the result today, every win is special but this one even more so.

“The stage was pretty difficult and again, thanks to the team, Esteban (Chaves) and Simon (Yates) made it through without issue and we are maintaining our good positions on the overall.”

How it happened:

The 193kilometre stage 12 began under blue skies and bright sunshine in Los Corrales de Buelna with the peloton still together after a very fast first hour of racing.

Splits began to form on the first ascent of the day, the Puerto de las Alisas, only for the bunch to reform on the following descent. Gradually a seven-man move began to pull clear including Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quickstep) and Peter Kennaugh (Team-Sky).

After 65kilometres of racing the breakaway had just over one minute on the Movistar led peloton who appeared to be unwilling to let this move stretch too far.

The pace slowed a little over the second hour of racing, enabling the seven escapees to push their lead out to two and a half minutes over the watchful peloton.

Approaching the first of two circuits of Bilbao with 65kilometres to go, the gap to the leaders was holding steady at two minutes 30seconds with Movistar still in control of the bunch.

The finishing circuits included two ascents of the Alto El Vivero climb and by the first time over the top with the peloton had clawed back nearly minute on the leaders.

The front group reduced to four riders after the El Vivero as Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) attacked for the points with Brambilla, Kennaugh and Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) following.

Lopez caught back to the quartet on the descent with the chasing peloton now little over one minute behind.

The catch was made with 17kilometres remaining and the speeding peloton now reduced to around 60 riders on the final time over the El Vivero.

Dries Devenyns (IAM-Cycling) attacked towards the summit and gained 30seconds as the bunch began to split behind him.

A seven rider group gave chase behind Devenyns before being swallowed by Trek-Segafredo leading the peloton into the last five kilometres.

Moments later the bunch caught and passed Devenyns with only two kilometres to go and immediately shaped up for the sprint.

ORICA-BikeExchange were well represented in the finale with Howson holding a strong position on the right and Keukeleire tightly on his wheel.

As Howson pulled off, Keukeleire hit out early and magnificently held his sprint to the line to take the stage victory by a number of bike lengths.

Stage 13 takes place tomorrow and is the longest stage of this year’s race, covering 213.4kilometres from Bilbao to Urdax-Dantxarinea. The stage includes four third-category climbs before a technical and undulating finale.