Niccolò Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie) denied the sprinters their chance at Saudi Tour Wednesday, stealing stage 2 with a late dash off the front of the pack.
The Italian chased down Heinrich Haussler after the Bahrain-McLaren rider had shot off the front of his team’s leadout with one kilometer to go before storming past the Australian and hanging on for victory.
The sprinters were chasing close behind and came across the line seconds later. Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-McLaren) took the surge for second over third-place Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic). Overnight GC leader Rui Costa (UAE-Team Emirates) finished in the pack and held on to his overall lead.
Having been denied his opportunity in stage 1 by a late crash, Bonifazio played it perfectly to win Wednesday’s stage.
“In the last kilometer I took the corner in third position, and Haussler attacked and Cavendish stopped,” he said. “I followed Haussler and I looked back and saw only a small gap to the group so I went full gas to the finish.”
“I’m really happy and want to continue like this. I’m really pleased with my reaction after the crash.”
The stage had looked set for a sprint, and with around ten kilometers remaining and the breakaway caught, the sprit teams massed on the front through the fast, tight roads around Riyadh. Going into the final kilometers, Bahrain-McLaren took control, working for Bahaus after Cavendish appeared to have opted out of sprinting. The Brit had crashed twice and instead was contributing to the leadout.
Haussler came to the front of the Bahrain-Mclaren leadout train with one kilometer to go and darted off the front as he led the peloton around a swooping bend. The 35-year-old managed to take a 50-meter advantage on the bunch, who had been caught unawares.
Bonifazio was first to react and bridged to Bauhaus with around 500 meters remaining. As the road started rising toward the line, Haussler faded. Bonifazio sat on his wheel for a split second before making his final acceleration to hold off Bauhaus and the sprinters, who came charging up behind him.
“I had a good winter and worked really hard to be ready for the first race,” Bonifazio said. “Yesterday was a good day but I crashed, and was really hungry [for victory] after the race.”
The sprinters will get their next chance to fight for the win in stage 3, Thursday, provided they make it over a series of short climbs mid-way through the race.
Stage 2 results:
- Niccolò Bonifazio (Total Direct Energie): 4:32:31
- Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-McLaren): +0:02
- Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic): +0:02
GC after stage 2
- Rui Costa (UAE-Team Emirates): 8:25:35
- Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-McLaren): +0:00:01
- Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic): +0:00:02