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Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won a winding, wet stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia on Saturday, and Michael Matthews inherited the maglia rosa from Orica-GreenEdge teammate Svein Tuft.
The 219km stage was a mostly flat ride beginning and ending in Belfast, with a long southerly stretch alongside the coast. But weather added a degree of difficulty — it rained more or less throughout, and there were the usual crashes and mechanicals as a consequence.
Featured was a four-man breakaway: Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin), at 1:01 overall; Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli), at 1:01; Sander Armee (Lotto Belisol), at 4:18; and Jeffry Romero (Colombia), at 4:37.
The bunch was content to leave them out front for most of the day, keeping the margin in the five- to six-minute range and saving the serious pursuit for the final 40km.
With 25km to go the gap was down to 1:15, and Tjallingii —winner of the first KOM sprint — punched it again and secured his grip on the climber’s jersey. Likewise Fedi laid claim to the sprint kit as the peloton closed in.
“There are not many chances to be in breakaways in this Giro, so I wanted to try today,” said Tjallingii. “I felt I was in control of the group, and when I won the first points sprint, I wanted to go for the second one. I got the jersey, and I am satisfied because I think I got the most out of the day’s effort. Tomorrow there will be another chance for a breakaway, so maybe I can get in the group and defend the jersey.”
Ten kilometers from the line the gap was under a minute, and the break shed Romero. A couple kilometers further along Tjallingii had a go, and with 6km to go he was on his own.
But the bunch was right behind. And 3.5km from the line they had him.
Trek Factory Racing took the front on the left side of the road as the road furniture began appearing; Giant-Shimano came up on the right. Then FDJ took a hand.
The day before, Sky’s Ben Swift told the BBC that Kittel would be “the man to beat” in Saturday’s finale. And indeed, with 1km to go Giant hit the front with their fast man in tow, and as the field slowed for the final slippery left-hand corner with 350 meters to go, Kittel gave it the gas and took the stage win.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) took second and third.
“I know the riders who I have to take care of and keep an eye on,” said Kittel.
“The two main guys are the British and the German ones, (Mark) Cavendish and (André) Greipel. But Bouhanni and (Elia) Viviani are also strong and will definitely challenge us here. It’s a problem if you become arrogant and think you will beat them.”
On the overall, Matthews slipped into the pink jersey, with teammates Luke Durbridge and Ivan Santaromita in second and third, respectively. Tuft slipped to fourth overall.
• If Swift predicted the stage win, Orica director Matt White called the jersey. Speaking at the stage start he said: “Michael should have the jersey tonight. He’s our sprinter, he’s going well, and that was our plan — to have Svein in pink after the team time trial, with Michael taking over.”
• The stage winner tipped his hat to Northern Ireland’s cycling fans. Asked for his verdict on the Giro’s visit to Belfast, Kittel said: “The first thing that comes to my mind is a lot of rain, and the second thing is the atmosphere. Even with all the rain there were so many people out there today, many in shorts and T-shirts. I don’t know how they do it.”
• Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin, who broke a collarbone in crashing out of Friday’s opening team time trial, was slated for surgery in Dublin late Saturday. He expects to be back on his bike in two weeks and could now target the Tour de France. “Dan is good at putting things to one side,” said team director Charly Wegelius. “He’s obviously disappointed, because we’re in Ireland, he had worked very hard for this and he’s been going extremely well. But he’s capable of picking other objectives and looking forward.”