The promising young Belgian Rune Herregodts won the first stage of the Vuelta a Andalucía race, securing the victory at Iznájar with a successful breakaway.
Herregodts, of Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise beat Stephen Bassett (of Human Powered Health) and Ander Okamika (of Burgos BH) on Iznájar's steep final sprint.
The eight breakaway cyclists of the day left the rest of the peloton behind during the second kilometre of the stage, in the outskirts of Ubrique. They had a 15-minute advantage over the pack, which ceded just over half a minute at the finish line, leaving possibilities for the next stages of the race very open.
As cycling becomes more competitive, a successful breakaway is an increasingly difficult feat.
Thursday's stage set off at 1pm in Archidona in Malaga, and ended in Alcalá la Real, in Jaén. At 151 kilometres long, this stage included five mountain climbs. Four of these are of the third category: Alto del Higueral, Puerto Salto del Caballo, Alto de las Grajeras and Puerto del Castillo. The cyclists also passed through Puerto Sierra Cristina, a second category climb. The stage ended with a final ascent.
The sport of cycling is currently at a generational crossroads. On the international stage, veteran cyclists and those approaching their 30s are seemingly being replaced by talented youngsters from Gen Z. Tadej Pogacar, Egan Bernal or Jonas Vingegaard, all under the age of 25, have burst onto the scene and have matured much faster than the more senior professionals would have liked.
In Spain, things aren't so different. The always exciting Mikel Landa, from Bahrain Victorious, is starting his 2022 season at the Vuelta a Andalucía. But the spotlight is instead shining on 21-year-old Carlos Rodríguez, an Almuñécar local who is currently with Ineos Grenadiers.
The youngster is already proving himself, finishing third at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana ahead of Alejandro Valverde or Enric Mas, and he will also hope to better his fourth-place finish at last year's Andalusian tour.
On a regional level, veteran Marbella local Luis Ángel Maté will be joined by five cyclists between the ages of 23 and 27: the aforementioned Carlos Rodríguez, Cristian Rodríguez (Almeria), José Manuel Díaz (Jaén), Álvaro Cuadros (Granada) and Juan Antonio López Cózar (Granada).