Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won a punchy finale in stage 2 of the Volta a Catalunya, spoiling the party for the pure sprinters on a rainy Tuesday in Spain.
The peloton entered the final kilometer en masse, with Etixx-Quick-Step at the sharp end of the bunch, but Valverde jumped in the final few hundred meters to easily take the win, his second of the season.
“More than doing it to take sprinters out of the fight, the team pushed into the final kilometers to keep ourselves well-placed against the rain and any danger that could show up,” Valverde said. “[Jesús] Herrada did a phenomenal job leading the group in that section, and the whole team was fantastic from start to finish.
“I started that final kilometer up front, with a couple of Etixx riders pushing just before myself. When they stopped, I found myself right in front of the whole pack and started looking behind — I didn’t really know who was there, I wanted to position myself better, and some riders started gaining places.
“When I saw Elmiger, I profited from a small split on the leadout to follow his wheel and started looking for my sprinting distance. When he jumped, I went after him, yet with some doubts, as I didn’t know if it was right to give 100 percent at that point, but then again, I saw many others on the left side overcoming us, and I didn’t hesitate anymore, I attacked. I wasn’t conscious about Rojas coming from behind, either; at the end, we took first and second, a big joy for us.”
The stage ran 191.8km from Mataro to Olot, and it included a category three climb in the final 10 kilometers of racing.
The early breakaway was comprised of four riders: Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), Sam Bewley (Orica-GreenEdge), Tom Stamsnijder (Giant-Alpecin), and Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
“The plan was to let few escapees break clear at the beginning of the stage, let them gain few minutes of advantage and then control the situation,” said CCC director Piotr Wadecki. “This is exactly what happened. We stayed in the front, setting solid and stable pace. In the end we were hoping that other teams, who have fast riders on their rosters and want to win the stage, will also contribute to the chase. And they did, so the plan was fulfilled.”
Heading into the final 60 kilometers of racing, the break had an advantage that hovered between two and three minutes.
With 25 kilometers remaining, the break’s lead was merely 1:25.
On a small climb, with 21km left, Mas Bonet and Grmay got away from their fellow escapees.
Then, Mas Bonet attacked in a last-ditch effort to stay away. However, he was soon caught by the peloton, which was more eager to chase than it was on Monday, when the breakaway succeeded.
Coming into the final kilometer, Etixx-Quick-Step led out the sprint, with Lotto-Soudal close behind in the line-up. Movistar’s JJ Rojas opened up his sprint on the left side, cueing up Valverde for the win.
Rojas was second, and Martin Elmiger (IAM Cycling) finished third. Maciej Paterski (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) kept his overall lead in the race heading into Wednesday’s stage 3, a 156.6km stage that starts and finishes in Girona.
“There’s a quite demanding climb tomorrow, with a pretty difficult descent afterwards,” said Valverde who won the 2014 WorldTour title. “We’ll see what happens; we must stay focused, as well myself as Ruben who are doing strong this week, and let’s see how I recover from the efforts. I came into this race after Sanremo, which is almost like two stages, and the first two days here were also demanding — but you never know.”