Alexis Vuillermoz (TotalEnergies) produced a perfectly executed sprint to win stage two of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Part of a five-rider breakaway in the closing stages of the race, Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ) seemingly had the race win in the bag as he created a considerable distance between himself and the other riders with just 300m remaining. However, Vuillermoz just managed to hold onto Le Gac's wheel, fighting back to sprint past him with just a few metres to spare.
Alongside Vuillermoz and Le Gac in the initial breakaway was Xandres Vervloesem (Lotto-Soudal), Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM), Anders Skaarseth (Uno-X Pro Cycling) and Anthony Delaplace (Arkéa Samsic), which formed 20km into the race. Vervloesem failed to hang on midway through the stage, though, but the other five riders worked perfectly together at the front of the race as they rode towards the line.
The time gap fluctuated around the four minute mark, until the final 30km when the peloton tried bringing their sprinters back into the race. Despite the gap falling to below 40 seconds in the final 10km, they never looked like troubling the breakaway powering on the pedals at the front of the race.
Eventually, Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) ended up finishing just five seconds after the front five, but the dramatic finish from Vuillermoz also saw Skaarseth come through and take second place, with Le Gac coming third.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Wout Van Aert's (Jumbo-Visma) impressive win on stage two meant he came into the second day wearing the yellow leader's jersey. With today another hilly affair from Saint-Péray to Brives-Charensac, the Belgian seemed most likely to win the 169.8km event.
Four categorised climbs featured on stage two, with the Côte de Rohac coming just 9km from the finish line. While only a short ascent, this offered the perfect opportunity for riders to attack from so close to home.
The opening 20km of the race started with plenty of attacks, but none failed to stick as the peloton remained together. Some riders launched multiple attempts at creating a breakaway, but it wasn't until Xandres Vervloesem (Lotto-Soudal), Kevin Vermaerke (Team DSM), Anders Skaarseth (Uno-X Pro Cycling), Anthony Delaplace (Arkéa Samsic), Alexis Vuillermoz (TotalEnergies) and Olivier Le Gac (Groupama-FDJ) gained some ground on the bunch that the breakaway finally formed.
After just a couple of kilometres of riding out front, the breakaway group's lead stood at 3-30 over the peloton. Jumbo-Visma rode at the head of the peloton, but seemed content in allowing the pace to slow slightly as the lead rose to 4-30 on the run towards the first categorised climb of the day, at Côte de Désaignes.
Vervloesem summited the climb first, picking up two KOM points, and the Belgian soon did the same 5.6km later, up Côte de Saint-Agrève. However, this seemed to do more damage for Vervloesem later in the race, with the peloton catching him with 60km remaining.
Meanwhile, Ineos Grenadiers worked to bring the breakaway's lead back below four minutes on these climbs, but quick descents from the front six - before Vervloesem was caught - ensured the gap rose back to 4-30 once again.
This advantage stayed at a constant pace on the approach to the third categorised climb of the day, up the Col de Mézilhac. Alexis Vuillermoz crossed the sprint line first, picking up five points. Further back, Laurens De Plus (Ineos Grenadiers) and James Shaw (EF Education-EasyPost) worked hard at the head of the peloton, causing sprinters such as Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) to be dropped. Despite help from his teammates, he failed to get back to the front and compete in the final sprint.
Josef Cerny (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) both abandoned the race midway through, with the latter likely struggling to maintain the pace having just completed the Giro d'Italia a week ago.
With 45km remaining, the leaders reached the intermediate sprint at Le Gerbier-de-Jonc, with Kevin Vermaerke picking up the bonus seconds. Their advantage out front stood at just 1-40 by this stage, with the peloton gradually closing the gap through the use of multiple teams.
The undulating route thereafter allowed for some intense pace in both the peloton and breakaway, but the gap dropped below a minute for the first time with 13km to go.
The final categorised climb of the day came with the Côte de Rohac, a 1.2km ascent at 5% - though it opens with a 8% incline. The five riders out front were only 33 seconds ahead of the peloton by this point, with 9km to go, with Jumbo-Visma comfortably positioned near the front of the bunch as Trek-Segafredo riders Kenny Elissonde and Toms Skujiņš closed the gap.
Alexis Vuillermoz passed the Côte de Rohac summit first, though this didn't seem to faze the breakaway as they all powered on the pedals into the remaining 7km. In fact, their lead gradually rose back towards 40 seconds into the final 5km. Jumbo-Visma refused to give up the chase, but their efforts didn't seem enough as the they failed to make any substantial inroads on the breakaway's lead.
The breakaway entered the final kilometre 20 seconds ahead, and it looked certain they would win by this point despite the peloton quickly approaching behind.
Olivier Le Gac launched his attack first, with 400m to go into the final turn of the race, and the Frenchman looked like he would manage to hold onto the win. However, Vuillermoz got back onto Le Gac's wheel and powered past him, stealing the win just metres from the line.
Skaarseth also managed to come through and take second place, with Le Gac having launched slightly too early to hang onto a higher position.
The peloton only finished five seconds after the last breakaway rider, with Wout Van Aert leading them across the line in sixth. He won't spend tomorrow in the yellow jersey, though, with Vuillermoz now leading the general classification.
CRITÉRIUM DU DAUPHINÉ, STAGE TWO: SAINT-PÉRAY TO BRIVES-CHARENSAC (169.8KM)
1. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) TotalEnergies, in 4-03-34
2. Anders Skaarseth (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling, at same time
3. Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
4. Kevin Vermaerke (USA) Team DSM
5. Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Arkéa Samsic
6. Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at 5s
7. Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
8. Hugo Page (Fra) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
9. Clément Venturini (Fra) AG2R Citroën
10. Alexandr Riabushenko (Blr) Astana-Qazaqstan
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE TWO
1. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) TotalEnergies, in 8-40-55
2. Anders Skaarseth (Nor) Uno-X Pro Cycling, at 3 seconds
3. Olivier Le Gac (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 4s
4. Wout Van Aert (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at 5s
5. Kevin Vermaerke (USA) Team DSM, at 7s
6. Ethan Hayter (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 9s
7. Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Arkéa Samsic, at 10s
8. Sean Quinn (USA) EF Education-EasyPost, at 11s
9. Maxime Bouet (Fra) Arkéa Samsic, at 12s
10. Laurens Huys (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, at 13s
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