George Bennett has finished fifth in stage 2 of the Vuelta a Espana. Following yesterday’s prologue time trial Bennett got up the final climb to finish 3 seconds behind Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Michal Kwiatkowski of Team Sky; with the latter taking over the lead of the race. Bennett, with his performance today, leapt up from 53rd to 18th overall at 45 seconds to the Pole.
De Gendt returns to breakaway duties
It would be a rude awakening for the field in the first road stage of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana. No bunch sprint was expected at the end of the 163.9km stage from Marbella to Caminito del Rey as a category 3 summit finish up the Alto de la Mesa would provide the first stern challenge for the climbers. Rohan Dennis of BMC Racing went into the stage with the red leader’s jersey on the back of his opening stage win; and his teammates did a lot of work on the front of the peloton to control the race and monitor the progress of the breakaway up ahead.
The break of the day featured none other than the ever-determined Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Alexis Gougeard of AG2R La Mondiale, Pierre Rolland of EF Education-First Drapac, Hector Saez of Euskadi-Murias, Luis Angel Mate of Cofidis, Pablo Torres of Burgos-BH and Caja Rural-Seguros RGA’s Jonathan Lastra. After building a lead that went to 4 minutes, the riders crossed the finish line for the first time. BORA-Hansgrohe were instrumental in supporting the chase efforts of BMC Racing and the intensity on the front of the race from them saw that 4 minute lead quickly evaporate down to 2.39mins with 62km to go.
Steadily the break’s lead trickled down, not aided by the dropping off of De Gendt with 55km to go. At 45km the break’s lead sat at around 2 minutes, with BMC Racing and BORA-Hansgrohe still combining at the front of the race. With the break’s lead down to 1.15mins at 32km allegiances in the break came to an end as Alexis Gougeard launched an attack, drawing Pierre Rolland along with him. The rest of the break left it too late to bridge across, and the duo were gone.
Movistar vs Team Sky for peloton control
Behind them the tempo lifted as EF Education-First Drapac, Movistar and Team Sky all jostled for the front of the pack; bringing the break’s lead down to a minute with 28.5km remaining. Also not too far from the front were the yellow and black colours of LottoNL-Jumbo. At 27.5km to go the remnants of the break – barring Gougeard and Rolland – were caught and the intensity continued on, with Movistar rather more in control of the race than the other teams at this point.
Rolland and Gougeard were a good combination at the front of the race. The French duo paired up well to enjoy a stay of execution from the peloton. At 25km to go they held a 50 second advantage and they nearly managed to stretch that out to a minute. Eventually though the roads proved too much for Gougeard who cracked on an uphill with 21km left to race. From here Rolland’s lead toppled as Sky moved up alongside Movistar.
20km from the finish Rollands lead was a meagre 16 seconds and a couple of hundred metres later the race was once again all together. It was now Team Sky, led by Dylan van Baarle, who were in control of the pack; wanting to position Kwiatkowski well on the run in to the base of the climb which steadily ramped up from 8km out. While they were working on the front of the race, the likes of Rohan Dennis and Peter Sagan were being shaken off the back of the bunch. Interestingly another to lose time was Richie Porte of BMC Racing; with the Tasmanian dropping any GC hopes as early as day 2 as he lost over 13 minutes alongside Adam Yates of Mitchelton-Scott.
Valverde & Kwiatkowski show class on final climb
Team Sky went pretty unchallenged at the front of the race for much of the closing stages until with a little over 5km to go Movistar took control once again. The climb to the line had officially begun with Andrey Amador leading the way and the pace was high as a number of riders fell back off the bunch. Among those to concede time was Gorka Izagirre of Bahrain-Merida, who dropped off the back as Nelson Oliveira lifted the tempo for Movistar.
3km from the finish Sky took back the lead as George Bennett, for the first time in the stage, could be seen just moving into position ready for the finale. Tao Geogenhart Tok over with 2km left to race, still hitting some exceptional speeds as the climb slowly ramped up towards its climax. Kwiatkowski was perfectly positioned, with Steven Kruijswijk poised to attack with 1.7km to go. The Dutchman put the pressure on the rest, but couldn’t catch anyone unawares, but Laurens De Plus could. The Quick-Step Floors rider attacked and forced Sky to chase a little more aggressively than they’d have liked.
De Plus still led as Kruijswijk now took on the chase for LottoNL-Jumbo. The Dutchman then sat up as Alejandro Valverde launched with 500m to go. Kwiatkowski and AG2R La Mondiale’s Tony Gallopin were able to go with him, but then Kwiatkowski kicked and it was Poland vs Spain leaving the rest behind as Kwiatkowski and Valverde left the rest behind and charged to the line. Valverde had enough left in the tank to come through and secure the stage win; the 38 year old’s 10th of his career.
Behind Valverde and Kwiatkowski Wilco Kelderman and George Bennett pushed the pace as the gap to the two leaders opened up. De Plus just about managed to hold on for third place, with Kelderman fourth and Bennett fifth at 3 seconds. Kwiatkowski’s consolation was that the red leader’s jersey passed to his shoulders with Valverde now second overall and Kelderman third.