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Vincenzo Nibali takes Vuelta lead as Nicolas Roche wins stage 2

The Saxo-Tinkoff rider attacks on the final steeps to win stage 2

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Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) sprinted to victory atop Alto Do Monte Da Groba to win stage 2 of the 2013 Vuelta a España on Sunday.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) took over the red leader’s jersey from teammate Janez Brajkovic.

“It was an incredible day,” said Roche, for whom the Vuelta is an important race. “I had a lot of motivation for today’s stage. Roman [Kreuziger] and I are good friends, and we’re roommates here, so we talk a lot, and he agreed that I should try today. I hope to keep riding well throughout the Vuelta. It’s important for me, and I can finish fourth, fifth or sixth, I will be very happy.”

The break of the day during the 178km leg from Pontevedra to Baiona featured Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol) — who punched it when the flag dropped — joined by Alex Rasmussen (Garmin-Sharp) and Francisco Javier Aramendia Llorente (Caja Rural).

But as they approached the final climb of the day — the Alto Do Monte Da Groba, first summit finish of this Vuelta — the bunch, led by Astana and Movistar, was breathing down their necks.

Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) had a dig out of the peloton early on the 11km climb, with its average grade of 5.6 percent. But he couldn’t make it stick as Movistar and Astana kept the pedal to the metal.

With 7km remaining race leader Brajkovic was in the bunch, looking none too comfortable. Looking even less well was Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who fell off the pace, along with Sergio Henao (Sky). Nibali, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) remained attentive near the front, as did Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) and Ivan Basso (Cannondale).

“It was a bad day,” said Sanchez. “With 7km to go, I just didn’t have any strength. I couldn’t turn the pedals. Thank goodness I had my teammates. The Vuelta is long, there’s nothing you can do. That’s sport.”

The front group was down to less than 40 riders with 5km to go as Movistar drove the bunch along toward the final steeps. Valverde had two men with him in the final 2km.

And then Leopold Konig (NetApp) threw a wrench into the Movistar machinery, attacking with 1.4km to go. Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Roche and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) chased, and caught him with 1km to go.

Pozzovivo was next to have a go, but Roche punched it over the final rise and took the stage, with Moreno second and Pozzovivo third.

When the times were tallied, Nibali had the overall lead. Roche had vaulted into second, at eight seconds, with Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Leopard) third at 10 seconds. Horner sits fourth, also 10 seconds back.

“It was a good day for the team, working well together,” said Nibali. “The final was too explosive for me today — all I could do was follow the wheels — but that put me into the leader’s jersey. It’s a very long Vuelta.

“This second day was very important to get through it in good position. I had [Jakob] Fuglsang with me on the climb, so it was a good day for the team. We will take it day by day, because it’s a long way to Madrid. I don’t know if we will keep the jersey now, but I hope to have it in Madrid.”