By Alasdair Fotheringham
LOGRONO, Spain (Reuters) - Up-and-coming German sprinter John Degenkolb claimed his second stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Wednesday when he outpowered Italian Daniele Bennati and Belgium's Gianni Meersman in a mass charge for the line.
Seemingly oblivious to the heatwave that has not let up since the Vuelta started on Saturday, the Argos-Shimano rider made a late surge in Logrono city centre for a convincing victory on stage five to reinforce his lead in the points classification.
Overall, Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez of the Katusha squad continued to lead the race by one second from Britain's Chris Froome, with Spain's Alberto Contador in third.
With a noisy demonstration by some 200 anti-austerity cuts protesters in the background, Degenkolb told reporters the stage had unfolded perfectly.
"We wanted a really small group to get in the early break, and only one guy got away, and then after he was caught late on we (Argos-Shimano) and Katusha moved to the front to control the final lap of the race.
"Just like when I won on Sunday (Dutch team-mate) Koen De Kort dropped me off in exactly the right place for my last sprint.
"That last sprint for the line was really fast, I'd be curious to see how quick it was, but I didn't expect to win by such a big margin over Bennati," added the 23-year-old.
Asked if the points jersey could be an objective, Degenkolb who had dismissed the suggestion after his first stage win, now said he was not ruling it out.
"Of course it's a big dream to win a Grand Tour jersey, but we're still on the fifth day," Degenkolb said.
"Last year the overall classification riders were fighting for it, but I'll certainly battle for every point that's on offer."
When asked if he could win Thursday's uphill finish at Fuerte de Rapitan, Degenkolb laughed, pointed at race leader Rodriguez and said: "I think it's more a finish for him."
Rodriguez predicted fireworks on the third summit finish of the race.
"I'm definitely going to go for the stage win, getting time there could be important," said Rodriguez, winner of the Fleche Wallone Classic which has a similarly steep finale.
"My team mate Angel Vicioso went to see Fuerte de Rapitan and it's a good finish for me. It's not very long, but I think there can be some important time differences there."
The Vuelta finishes on Sunday September 9 in Madrid.
(Editing By Alison Wildey)