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From an elite group which included 2016 Olympic champion Greg van Avermaet (CCC Team), and seasoned grand tour rider Dan Martin (Israel Start-up Nation), Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) sprinted for the line, just inside of 100m to go.
The 21-year-old Pogačar, who was third at the 2019 Vuelta a España, managed to hold the former world champion by a bike-length, for the stage win. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain – McLaren) rounded out the podium.
The 181km rolling stage ended with a brutal 3.1km climb, which exceeded 21 percent grade for a short stretch. This is the third time Cullera has been the finish for the Volta; the city hosted a stage start in the 2019 Vuelta a España.
A five-man break established itself at 8km in, and was allowed just over a six-minute advantage by the peloton.
Alejandro Valverde, Louis Leon Sanchez, Philippe Gilbert, Ion Izaguirre, Wout Poels, and Michal Kwiatkowski were all motivated to regain control at the front of the chase group, to assure position for the finishing climb.
A crash at 6km to go took out Jumbo Visma’s Tobias Svendsen Foss, as teams jostled for position. It’s suspected that Foss has a broken clavicle, and he will not start Stage 3.
The run in to the climb was flat and somewhat technical, which played to the advantage of the chase. The remains of the break were absorbed before hitting the base of the climb, with about 3km to go.
Attacks came from Gonzalo Serrano (Caja Rural–Seguros RGA), Jan Polanc (UAE-Emeriates), and Gianni Moscon (Ineos). All were neutralized before the red kite, at 1km.
Valverde—with local knowledge of the roads—timed what he hoped to be the winning attack, but took Pogačar, Teuns, Martin and Haig with him.
Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) kept his powder dry for the finishing kick, “I knew if I went too deep at the beginning then I would really suffer at the end, in the critical moment.”
At a bend to the left, with less than 100m of racing left, Pogačar came around Valverde’s right side to take the win.
“On paper I knew that today was a good finish for me but I didn’t expect the win,” said Pogačar. “I wasn’t sure of my form after such a long time without racing so I surprised myself today.”
Pogačar indicated that his team will do what’s necessary to defend the lead as, “tomorrow looks like a day for Kristoff with a bunch sprint so we’ll try for him, but also we’ll work hard now to try keep the leaders jersey until the end.”
With the stage win, Pogačar vaults into the lead of the general classification, and is also the leader in the best young rider category.
Stage 3, on Friday, is 171km with 826m of elevation gain, and is another one for the sprinters, if they can manage the winds.
No time difference separates the the top nine positions in the g.c.
1. Tadej Pogačar, UAE-Emirates, 4:14:26
2. Alejandro Valverde, Movistar Team
3. Dylan Teuns, Bahrain-McLaren, all at s.t.
1. Tadej Pogacar, UAE-Emirates, 8:22:09
2. Jack Haig, Mitchelton-Scott
3. Alejandro Valverde, Movistar Team, all at s.t.