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Tirreno-Adriatico stage 2: What the stars said after Thursday’s throw down

Julian Alaphilippe, Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogačar and Greg Van Avermaet shed light on the thrilling stage 2 finale at Tirreno-Adriatico.

Everyone expected Tirreno-Adriatico to deliver the sparks with its world-class start list. The opening two stages have certainly lived up to expectations in the weeklong “Race of Two Seas.”

It’s impossible to have a race packed with so many stars, and not have some crackling action. Thursday’s stage 2 throw down in the long, grinding finale saw an immaculate preview of what’s in store not only for the upcoming spring classics, but also for this week’s GC tussle in what is shaping up to be a battle of the stars.

Here’s how the protagonists broke down the action at the finish line in Chiusdino, Italy:

Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) — stage winner

“Alapanache” uncorked a perfectly timed acceleration to come off the wheel of Ineos Grenadiers’ Geraint Thomas with 350m to go to reel in his attacking teammate João Almeida and fend off a fast-charging Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix). Magnifique.

Not only did Alaphilippe reverse the finishing order from last weekend’s Strade Bianche, but he notched his first victory in the rainbow jersey in 2021.

“It’s been a finale full of suspense. It was very intense. During the race, the rhythm was always very high,” Alaphilippe said. “For us, it was excellent that João Almeida was at the front. When Geraint Thomas made his move, I understood my time had come to make my move too, even though there was a headwind. It’s a special feeling to win with the rainbow jersey in Italy, the country where I conquered it. I’ve realized that it’s more difficult to win races with this jersey, so it makes today’s victory even sweeter. Milano-Sanremo will be another story, maybe it will be similar with the same contenders but it’s not the story of today. I don’t want to think about it yet.”

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) — race leader

Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) kicked to third 24 hours after blasting to victory in his second day of racing. In his third day of racing in 2021, he finished where he needed to in order to defend his race leader’s jersey. Van Aert holds a slim lead of 4 seconds to Alaphilippe, and 8 seconds to third-place van der Poel.

“I didn’t ask other teams to work. Maybe our sports director did but I was quite confident that especially UAE Team Emirates would come to help, but on the climbs, with the attacks, I was never really afraid,” van Aert said. “I said to the guys to ride as fast as possible. We didn’t close it quickly but we kept the breakaway a short distance ahead of us. João Almeida survived for so long and it was a hard sprint. The upcoming stages will be very difficult to control but the short steep climbs should suit me well. But when it comes to Saturday with such a long uphill finish, I’m more in the unknown. Both stages will be crucial. Teams like UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers will set up a mountain train but we have strong guys, too. However, I’m confident because today’s stage was already quite hard and we managed it well.”

Tadej Pogačar (UAE- Team Emirates) — 4th on stage, 9th overall

The 2020 Tour de France winner showed good signs of form on the first hilly test of Tirreno-Adriatico, claiming fourth place in an uphill sprint. UAE Team Emirates was present in numbers on the final 7km climb to the line, keeping the gap to a group of four escapees within reach. Pogačar, who won the UAE Tour last month in his season debut and rode into the winning group a Strade Bianche, reconfirmed his versatility to punch close to the podium, and moved up to ninth overall at 14 seconds back.

“It was a good day. The guys kept me in the front of the bunch and out of trouble,” Pogačar said. “In the end we tried to set a hard tempo on the climb but the climb wasn’t so steep as to split the group. We waited for the sprint and I took fourth. It’s a good start but we’ll look ahead to the next stages which will be harder.”

Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën) — 8th on stage

“Golden” Greg Van Avermaet continues to simmer near the favorites in every race he starts. The 2016 Olympic champion had his new Ag2r-Citroën teammate drape him with protection, and powered in with the leaders for eighth on the stage. The veteran Belgian has five top-10s so for in 2021, and hopes to be hitting full boil in time for the northern classics. A win along the way wouldn’t hurt, either.

“A top-10 here is a good result. It was a nice stage with a final climb that suited me,” Van Avermaet said. “Michael Schär did a great job to place me perfectly in the last kilometer. Then, it played-out à la pédale. I am satisfied with this eighth place; it’s encouraging for the future.”