Omega Pharma rider leaves it late for another stage win in Catalunya

Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won his second consecutive stage at the Volta a Catalunya on Tuesday, taking a bunch sprint in Banyoles, Spain. With the stage 2 victory, Meersman picked up a 10-second time bonus to extend his overall lead.

Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) was second, with Brett Lancaster (Orica-GreenEdge) third in the 160-kilometer stage, which started in Girona.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is second overall, at 16 seconds, with Danilo Wyss (BMC Racing) third, at 20 seconds.

“Even today it was a great sprint,” said Meersman. “The final circuit was nervous, but we were always on the front controlling. Then, I have to say the team did a great job in the last two kilometers. Dries [Devenyns] did a great thing closing the gap on two Blanco riders off the front, and then Andy Fenn led me to the 200 meter point. It was perfect, so I came out from the bunch and I did my sprint and I won, so I am glad I was able to win again for me and the team.”

Christophe Laborie (Sojasun), Olivier Kaisen (Lotto-Belisol), and Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge) were the day’s long escapees, jumping away from kilometer zero. The trio built up a maximum advantage of more than eight minutes, but the peloton drew them in with 20km remaining. It was Meier’s second day on the attack and he shored up his points classification lead along the way.

Vacansoleil-DCM and Blanco led the charge as the peloton worked its way across five circuits around Banyoles for the finale. Sky and Argos-Shimano were also there, hopeful to take the charge ahead of a tight, bending final approach to the line.

Jack Bobridge (Blanco) countered the catch, but got nowhere, and was back in the bunch before the riders crossed the finish line with two laps remaining.

Ag2r La Mondiale, BMC Racing, and Omega Pharma were also keen to position themselves at the front and mixed it up in the chase inside 5km to go, but Blanco never left the head of the bunch by more than two wheels. With 4.8km remaining, it was all blue and black Dutch jerseys at the front of the peloton.

Argos neutralized one brief, four-man attack inside 2km, but Blanco was again at the front as the peloton approached the final kilometer.

Omega’s Andrew Fenn led out inside 800 meters to go and Meersman opened the sprint inside 300 meters, bursting, as he did in Monday’s first stage, up the right side of the road from 10 wheels deep.

With 200 meters to go, a crashed rippled through the bunch, sending Valerio Agnoli (Astana) and Jonas Ahlstrand (Argos) to the tarmac. Both riders were off the pavement before television cameras left them.

Up ahead, Samuel Dumoulin made a bid for Meersman’s wheel, but the Belgian held him off to the right. Dumoulin faded inside the final 50 meters, with Ratto and Lancaster coming through to push him to fourth.

“This team, everyone knows their job and it’s marvelous and super to ride with each and every one,” said Meersman. “Even for me personally it was a great moment in my career; it’s the first time I’ve won two races in a row. It’s really a special feeling after all the sacrifices I have done in my career. I am happy also for my family. I haven’t seen them often because of the races, but I am sure they will enjoy with me this moment.”

The Volta a Catalunya continues Wednesday with the mountainous, 180km third stage from Vidreres to Vallter.

“About the stage of tomorrow, we will go into the mountains,” said Meersman. “So it will be my turn to help and work for my teammates and try to give them back all the help they gave me for these two first stages.”