You can count on a Belgian rider to thrive when the road gets rough. That’s just what Tim Wellens did Wednesday in stage 1 of Ruta del Sol, attacking a cobbled finish climb to Alcalá de los Gazules, Spain.
The Lotto-Soudal rider won the 170.5km stage by a few bike lengths to take the race’s overall lead.
Jakob Fuglsang rode home to second place after animating the race inside the final kilometer. His Astana teammate Ion Izagirre rounded out the podium in third.
The stage’s undulating terrain favored a long-range breakaway, which formed early in the day. Coming into the final kilometers, Matteo Montaguti (Androni Giocattoli) and Dries Van Gestel (Sport Vlaanderen) held onto a tenuous lead.
Astana drove the pace behind and the duo was soon caught.
“Last year learnt us that we had to start the final kilometer in pole position, which the team also did,” said Wellens, “In the run-up to the final climb, some teams attempted to form echelons but we had been briefed very well, so there was no reason to panic.”
Early on the climb, Fuglsang put in an effort that split a select group off the front of the bunch.
It appeared that the Danish rider had cued up a perfect one-two punch, as Izagirre launched a counterattack when the gradient eased with about 500 meters to go.
However, Wellens was attentive and marked the Spaniard’s move.
“After I responded to Izagirre’s attack, I gave my all until the line,” Wellens added. “I could really turn the experience of last year in my favor. It was difficult to sprint out of the saddle on the cobbles but sprinting while seated suits me really well. That is for sure an advantage on a finish like today.”
On the final ramp to the finish, the Belgian rider made one final attack and broke the elastic, taking his second victory of 2019.
The race for the overall gets heated on Thursday with a summit finish at the end of a long 216.5km stage 2 from Sevilla to Torredonjimeno. The five-day race will also hinge on a time trial in stage 3 Friday.