Vuelta a Espana 2017
Belgian Yves Lampaert led a Quick-Step Floors one-two ahead of Matteo Trentin to snatch the red jersey after an intriguing second stage of the Vuelta a Espana.
Lampaert, the 26-year-old puncheur riding his second Vuelta, broke clear of a splintered bunch in the final kilometre to win the first Grand Tour stage of his career ahead of beaming team-mate Trentin.
Italy’s Trentin beat Briton Adam Blythe (Aqua Blue Sport) for second place with Belgian Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) and Italy’s Sacha Modolo (UAE Team Emirates) completing the top five.
Lampaert now leads Trentin by one second at the top of the overall standings with Italy’s Daniel Oss (BMC) in third at three seconds and overnight leader Rohan Dennis (BMC) down to fourth, 17 seconds adrift.
“We planned with the team that if we couldn’t make an echelon then we would go in the last 10 kilometres,” an ecstatic Lampaert told the media after his victory.
“Niki [Terpstra] went full [gas] in the last 3km and then [Julian] Alaphilippe and we were with a few guys in a break. They then shouted ‘Go, go, go!’ and I’m happy I was able to hold on in the end. To be leading the race, it’s really crazy for me.”
The pan-flat 203.4km stage from Nimes to Gruissan in south-west France was a blustery affair which stood out for one rare factor: a breakaway never formed.
An early attack inside the opening kilometres was thwarted by the Trek-Segafredo team of Alberto Contador to usher in a tense four hours with riders on red-alert for the expected echelons.
Instead of a break, the stage was animated by crosswinds, splits, punctures, crashes, minor collisions between motorcycles and even an impromptu two-minute wait for a passing train with 50km remaining.
A small pile-up as the road narrowed across a stone bridge resulted in the first casualties of the race as Spaniard Javi Moreno – a key climbing lieutenant for the 2010 champion Vincenzo Nibaliof Bahrain-Merida – and Moroccan debutant Anass Ait el Abdia (UAE Team Emirates) were forced to withdraw.
With all the talk of 70kmph winds and echelons, it was the Katusha team of Ilnur Zakarin who forced the first meaningful split with 28km remaining – quickly closed down by Trentin and Oss, with Chris Froome’s Team Sky also attentive to the situation.
This followed the intermediate sprint, which was won by Quick-Step’s Trentin ahead of Marco Haller of Katusha and BMC’s Oss.
Team Sky piled on the pressure with 7km remaining with seven men coming to the front and Ian Stannard throwing down the hammer.
But it was Quick-Step Floors who got their tactics right by attacking en masse out of a roundabout inside the final 3km. Lampaert, Trentin, Terpstra and Alaphilippe rode clear with a handful of riders, with the pack behind broken into numerous groups.
As many riders closed in, Lampaert sniffed out an opportunity and zipped clear ahead of the flamme rouge to solo to victory ahead of the chasers.
Despite losing Moreno, Nibali stole a march over his GC rivals by finishing in the leading group of 10 riders attributed with the same time as winner Lampaert.
Nibali finished five seconds clear of Colombia’s Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and two others, with the likes of Froome and the other big-name favourites coming home a further three seconds back.
The riders arrived in drips and drabs with Zakarin, Contador, Roman Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Simon Yates (Orica-Scott), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and the Australian red jersey Dennis among those who conceded 13 seconds to Nibali and the leaders.
With stage winner Lampaert picking up 10 extra bonus seconds – and Trentin pocketing six for coming second – the duo leap-frogged Dennis and Oss at the top of the standings to cap a perfect day for Quick-Step Floors.
Monday’s 158.5km third stage features three climbs and sees the riders enter Spain for the first time ahead of a downhill finish in Andorra la Vella.