Vuelta a España 2013 stage 2: Roche takes first grand tour stage win

Nibali claims leader's jersey

This article originally appeared on Cyclingnews.com

Nicolas Roche (Saxo Bank Tinkoff) took one of the biggest wins of his career to take the second stage of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana from Pontevedra to the summit of Alto Do Monte Da Groba. The Irishman joined a select group inside the final 2 kilometres of the stage and attacked inside the final few hundred meters before holding off Daniel Moreno (Katusha), with Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R La Mondiale) rounding out the top three.

It was an early day of reckoning for some of the GC pretenders with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) and Sergio Henao Montoya (Team Sky) both losing time. Janez Brajkovic's (Astana) time in the red jersey was short lived, the Slovenian was dropped on the final climb and relinquished the leader’s jersey to his team leader Vincenzo Nibali.

Roche’s winning move came after Movistar had set a relentless pace on the final climb of the Alto do Monte da Groba. While the GC favourites were content to watch each other, and the occasional pretender lost time, Roche latched onto a move started by Leopold König.

The Czech attacked inside the final two kilometres, just as the climb rose in gradient for the last time. Roche, following Moreno and Pozzovivo, formed a four man move and when Pozzovivo's attack was countered, Roche took his chance.

Diving down the inside he opened up a slight gap and when Moreno briefly hesitated the Irishman needed no invitation to seal the stage win.

Behind him Alejandro Valverde led Diego Ulissi and Joaquim Rodriguez at 12 seconds, while Ivan Basso, Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema, Chris Horner, Rigoberto Uran and Daniel Martin all finished a further two seconds down. Despite the time bonuses on offer at the finish Roche was unable to snatch the red jersey and he now sits 8 seconds off Nibali’s lead, with Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (RadioShack Leopard) at ten seconds.

Early mountains beckon Vuelta peloton

The Vuelta kept its tradition with exciting racing parcours, with the first mountain stage of the race coming on stage two. After yesterday’s team time trial there was already a pecking order to the peloton but the climb to Alto Do Monte Da Groba threw up several questions over whether Astana would protect Brajkovic as well as Nibali and if they would relinquish the overall lead to an early break.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has an eight second lead on the general classification

Part of the picture became a little clearer when Alex Rasmussen (Garmin-Sharp), Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol) and Francisco Aramandia (Caja Rural) attacked inside the first kilometre of racing. The trio, with Aramandia the strongest climber on paper, quickly established a lead of over nine minutes, with Astana taking a back seat.

The Alto de San Cosme was the only climb in the first 100 miles of racing, and when the leaders crested the top their advance peaked out at close to 13 minutes. Astana gave a half-hearted but necessary chase but it was Lampre, with roughly 60 kilometres, to go who really began the chase in earnest.

With Michele Scarponi and Winner Anacona in their ranks, their aggression was understandable and Astana were more than welcoming to see another jersey take the reigns on the front of the peloton.

With added impetus and the leaders’ legs begging to fade the inevitable shift in time gaps began to happen. With 48 kilometres to go the trio had 11:22 but within just 15 kilometres their advantage was down to 7:36.

A block headwind, laced with fatigue and the fact that more and more teams were willing to chase, saw the lead tumble to 3 minutes with 15 kilometres to go.

Cannondale, Belkin, Katusha and Movistar all increased their presence on the front and when the leaders started the final climb the peloton were already breathing down their necks.

Henderson was the first to wilt with Rasmussen and Aramandia supplying commendable spirit in their futile decision to carry on. They were passed though with Saxo and Movistar setting tempo.

A brief cameo from Amets Txurruka followed, with the former Euskaltel rider stretching out a brief gap. However it was Movistar who turned the screws. Having lost time in yesterday’s stage this was their chance to claw some time back and test the mettle of their rivals. Herrada provided most of the damage, setting a scorching pace that slimmed the lead group down to less than forty riders.

Astana’s plan now looked clear, Movistar’s show of strength drawing them out with Fuglsang leading Nibali as Brajkovic yo-yoed off the back.

With seven kilometres remaining Samuel Sanchez slipped back, his Euskaltel team deciding to wait for their leader but more GC bravado was to turn to dust when minutes later Heano slipped back.

As Nibali, Rodriguez and Valverde sat and watched each other König seized the moment. His attack splintered the lead group with Brajkovic finally dropped back as Roche and Moreno gave chase to decide the stage. As for the overall battle, that’s only just begun.

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