By Stephen Puddicombe published
Philipsen continues Alpecin Fenix’s Grand Tour openings run
What is it about Alpecin-Fenix and the opening sprint stage of Grand Tours this year? At the Giro d’Italia, Tim Merlier came out on top in a bunch sprint on stage two. Then at the Tour de France, Merlier survived a crash-filled finale to triumph once again in a reduced bunch finish, with lead-out man Jasper Philipsen completing a one-two.
Now, Philipsen has won the first sprint of the Vuelta a España, making it a hat-trick of first-time successes for the Belgian team — an especially impressive feat when you remember their wildcard, non-World Tour status.
The win will have meant a lot to Philipsen, who was the nearly-man of the Tour de France, registering three times finishing third and another three times finishing second in the splints.
Without his nemeses Mark Cark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) or Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) present, he emerged as the quickest finisher in Burgos.
With this win in the bag, the question will now be whether he can go on to dominate the bunch sprints at this Vuelta, of which there still should be plenty. Nothing is guaranteed, especially considering how close the sprint today was, plus the fact that Alpecin-Fenix didn’t back up their early Giro and Tour successes with more sprint victories later in the race, but for now he’s the man to beat.
Jakobsen is well and truly back
He might not have won the sprint today, but Fabio Jakobsen’s sprint for second-place today confirms that he is well and truly back to his best.
The Deceuninck - Quick-Step rider was clearly on the right track heading into the Vuelta, with a couple of stage wins at the Vuelta a Burgos. But today’s stage was his first real test given the much higher calibre of the opposition and the hectic nature of a Grand Tour sprint.
Jakobsen passed the test with flying colours, staying well-positioned throughout the argy-bargy of the final kilometres, and then showing a serious turn of speed to sprint for second.
Given everything he’s been through following his career-threatening crash at the Tour of Poland last year, it’s worth remembering how it was unclear just a year ago whether he would return to racing again, let alone at this level. It’s been a deeply heartening comeback from the Dutchman, and it’s great seeing the 24-year-old out fulfilling his talent on the road again.
Yates and Carthy among GC contenders to lose time after crash
Crashes are a familiar factor of the first road stage of a Grand Tour, but save for one small incident in which Jay Vine (Alpecin-Fenix) went down early in the stage, it appeared as though everyone was set to survive stage two of this Vuelta intact.
That was until 4.3km to go, when a crash occurred right towards the front of the bunch.
The good news was that nobody appeared hurt, with all 184 riders making it to the finish. The bad news was that several riders with GC ambitions were held up for long enough to lose some potentially crucial seconds.
British riders were especially affected, with Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) losing 31 seconds and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) losing 38 seconds. That will come as a blow for Yates given how well he started the Vuelta in yesterday’s time trial, while Carthy now already finds himself 1-11 down on Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) after struggling yesterday.
Also losing 38 seconds were Lucas Hamilton (BikeExchange), whose misfortune continues after crashing out of the Tour de France; and Jack Haig and Mark Padun, perhaps strengthening the outright leadership status of their Bahrain-Victorious teammate Mikel Landa.
These weren’t huge losses, but podium spaces have been known to have been decided by less.
The wind fails to materialise
The one thing that might have prevented this from being a formulaic sprinters’ stage was the threat of crosswinds, but conditions failed to materialise.
On several occasions throughout the stage the pace increased in the peloton in anticipation of a change in direction towards potentially into some crosswinds, but each time the riders relaxed and no action kicked off.
In truth, very little was happening on the road today, and we could have done with some wind to spice things up a bit prior to the sprint finish.
The lack of any wind was therefore a shame for the viewing spectacle, but fear not — there are more stages to come this week that have been tipped as more likely crosswind stages. Echelons may not have been a factor today, but the GC men will need to remain alert throughout this opening week.
Aranburu falls just short in bid for red
Not yet ready to give up on glory having come close to taking the stage win yesterday, Alex Aranburu (Astana-PremierTech) today set his sights on the red jersey.
To gain the six seconds he needed to overtake Primoz Roglic at the top of GC, Aranburu targeted bonus seconds, starting with an intermediate sprint on the run-in to the finish.
Frustratingly for him, Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-QuickStep) denied him the maximum bonus, indicating that the Dutchman has his eye on the points classification as well as sprint wins — a bold ambition considering his long absence from elite-level racing.
That left him needing to finish in the top three in the final bunch sprint. It was always unlikely given the top sprinters he was up against, but Aranburu gave it a good go, and managed to finish an impressive fifth.
It wasn’t enough to take red, and unfortunately for him there’s no way he’s going to take it tomorrow, given the severity of the summit finishes awaiting the riders. But in this form, we can expect Aranburu to be in the mix for stage wins — and possibly even defend the green points classification jersey, which he now holds outright.
Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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