• Jens Keukeleire (Orica-BikeExchange) celebrates his stage 12 win at the 2016 Vuelta a Espana (Getty)Source: Getty
Jens Keukeleire (OBE) sprinted to his first Grand Tour win after a punishing 197km stage 12 of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana.
By
Cycling Central

2 Sep 2016 - 10:12 AM  UPDATED 2 Sep 2016 - 3:23 PM

Keukeleire capitalised on a lead out from team mate Damien Howson in the closing 300m clinching the win over Maxime Bouet (Etixx-Quickstep) and Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo). 

"I've been going pretty good the last couple of days. We knew it was going to be a hard stage today. And (OBE Director) Neil Stephens said if you're still there at the final, you can give it a crack and see how it goes," the Belgian said. 

"When we passed that last climb the first time I was thinking if I go full on this I'm not sure I'm really going to be here but I felt good I was able to hang on and the boys were good in the end.

"I'm not going to say I felt good today I think everyone was suffering but I was just good enough to make it over those climbs in the final and then I was really confident in the sprint that i could get a great result

"(Simon) Yatesy was going with all the moves then I had Damo with me to lead me a little into the sprint. I head out maybe a bit too early but, I wasn't too early. To get a chance to win with two GC riders here, I'm really honoured. 

Keukeleire's special spectators, his girlfriend and fairly new born son Lou experienced his baby themed victory salute. 

 

In stark contrast to Keukeleire's delight, Felline was in a world of hurt, but his passion was no less evident. 

 

The team spirit is strong with this one

Backstage Pass

OBE Director Neil Stephens said the win characterised Keukeleire. 

"What typified this win today was a guy that all through the day was still doing his job as a worker, back getting bottles, taking the GC riders into position and he only thought of himself in that last couple of kilometres  with permission." 

Once the team knew the Belgian was their man for the stage, they committed full force with Yates jumping on moves in the final kilometres and then came a lead out from natural climber Damien Howson.

"I was floating around the ends there in the last five or six k, then all of a sudden I looked up and there was 300m to go, I saw some space and just gave it everything for him to open it up and as you saw, he demolished that one," said Howson. 

"He's always working for the team, so I'm really happy for him," Yates said. 

 

 

As it happened 

The stage was marked as one for sprinters; sprinters who can climb. In reality, the peloton faced a crushing day with a punishing closing circuit in Bilbao where they'd climb the category two Alto El Vivero, twice.

To get there, they first had to traverse the category one, Puerto de Las Alisas after 40 kilometres raced - a 10km climb with a 6 per cent average gradient.

No attacks succeeded before Las Alisas. Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) and Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) shimmied away on the lower slopes but Astana put a stop to this move four kilometres from the summit.

But an attack from David Lopez and Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) and Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quickstep) pulled clear on the downhill after Romain Hardy (Cofidis) took the KOM points alone at the top.

With Movistar stablising the advantage, the break edged to a two minute and 14 second lead as they attacked the third category Alto la Escrita. Atapuma was caught on the other side by the peloton not long after crashing on the descent. 

The first ascent of Vivero did its damage with the advantage dropping to 30 seconds the first time over the finish line with 28kms to go. Just Lopez, Kennaugh, Elissonde, Brambilla, and Meintjes remained but were finally reeled in with 19kms and the final ascent of Vivero to go.

Here, Dries Devenyns (IAM) launched a solo attack and quickly built a 30 second lead, Contador attempting a similar attack on the peloton with no success. Devenyns stayed away until the last kilometre where the pack caught up with him and OBE expertly guided their servant to the line.