Bradley Wiggins (Sky) made his intentions clear in the opening stage of Volta a Catalunya in Spain on Monday, riding aggressively to force a 13-man late escape group.
Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) won the sprint from the elite group of riders than contained most of the pre-race favourites including Wiggins, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Robert Gesink (Blanco), Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida).
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An earlier escape consisting of Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge) and Cristiano Salerno (Cannondale) had built up a five-minute lead over bunch on a hilly parcours, but the duo were caught on the final climb of the day, Alt de Collsacreu.
It was then that Sky moved to the head of affairs, forcing the pace in an attempt to reduce the chances of attacks on the climb. Wiggins then took an active role on the descent to maintain his squad’s control by keeping the speed high, and caused the bunch to split.
Wiggins and Sky team-mates David lopez and Dario Cataldo maintained the speed on the more level run-in to the line. Wiggins and Martin initially led-out the gallop to the line, but it was stronger sprinter Meersman who edged ahead to take the win ahead of Valerio Agnoli (Astana) with Valverde in third. Wiggins finished sixth.
For the contenders that made it into the front group it was job done, finishing 28 seconds ahead of the bunch on what could have been a quiet opener.
The day also marked the return to the peloton of American Garmin-Sharp riders David Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Christian Vande Velde. The trio served a six-month suspension for admitting to doping during their professional careers. Their admissions were part of the USADA invesitgation that saw Lance Armstrong stripped of seven Tour de France titles.
Tuesday’s second stage offers up a flatter route from Girona, with one third-category climb and a lumpy finishing circuit in Banyoles tackled four times. The seven-stage WorldTour race concludes on Sunday, March 24.
Volta a Catalunya 2013, stage one: Calella to Calella, 159km
1. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 3-55-56
2. Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Astana
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar
4. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp
5. Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing
6. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Blanco
8. Joaquim Rodroiguez (Spa) Katusha
9. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida
10. David Lopez (Spa) Sky all same time
17. Andy Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 28 secs
115. Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Sky at 28 secs
143. Josh Edmondson (GBr) Sky at 28 secs
149. Steve Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing at 28 secs
Overall classification after stage one
1. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep in 3-55-46
2. Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Astana at 4 secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 6 secs
4. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 10 secs
5. Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing at 10 secs
6. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky at 10 secs
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Blanco at 10 secs
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 10 secs
9. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida at 10 secs
10. David Lopez (Spa) Sky at 10 secs
David Zabriskie and Tom Danielson in their first race back after serving a six-month suspension
Gianni Meersman (left) takes the win in a break animated by Bradley Wiggins (right)
Gianni Meersman in the race lead