It all looked doomed for Bora-Hansgrohe's Lukas Pöstlberger, having spent the day in the breakaway and the peloton closing to within 20 seconds in the final kilometres, but the Austrian benefitted from a downhill run-in and a careless peloton to take a well-earned victory on stage two of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Up the final two climbs inside the final 15km of the stage, Pöstlberger was slowly dragged back by the bunch, and the catch looked inevitable, as Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) readied himself to try and take the stage and potentially the race lead.
It wasn't to be, however, as Colbrelli settled for second place for the second day in a row, Pöstlberger sailing across the line with 11 seconds to spare.
Behind Colbrelli came Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, the Spaniard as well as fellow GC contenders Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) moving into the top 10 overall as Pöstlberger took yellow from Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal) who was detached on the penultimate climb.
How it happened
Five categorised climbs on the second stage would test stage one winner Brent Van Moer’s grip on three of his jerseys, the polka dot one he originally went up the road for on the opening day, as well as the yellow variety the Belgian sported on stage two as a matter of hierarchy, also holding the green and white jerseys.
Chris Froome was back at the team car early on with a mechanical issue before safely returning to the peloton, as off the front went the day’s attackers. Brit Matthew Holmes representing Lotto-Soudal, Bora-Hansgrohe’s Lukas Pöstlberger as well as Anthony Delaplace (Arkéa-Samsic), Shane Archbold (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Robert Power (Qhubeka Assos).
The five-man group were held close by the bunch for a few kilometres, but 30km in they relented and the gap yawned out to four minutes, five minutes by the time of the first climb of the day.
Holmes was first to the top of the category one Peyra Taillade, picking up 10 KOM points atop the hardest of the day’s ascents, as Ineos worked on the peloton behind, chiselling into the break’s advantage slightly.
Archbold required a bike change, as his team-mate who was in the break yesterday, Ian Garrison, abandoned the race.
Holmes was again first to the summit of the second climb, rain falling on the course now, as they went past the finish line for the first time in Saugues.
Pöstlberger led through the intermediate sprint before Astana’s Benjamin Perry was another North American to abandon.
Power then fell away from the breakaway, as the gap between the two groups remained stable at around three and a half minutes, leaving four up front, before Pöstlberger edged ahead on a descent with around 50km to go, quickly brought back in by the other three.
Holmes added another point over the top of the Côte d’Auvers as Ineos brought the gap down to 2-30, Trek also contributing now.
With little over 30km to go, Pöstlberger and Archbold dropped Holmes and Delaplace, soon opening a 20-second gap, doubling their advantage as they passed under the 20km to go banner, the peloton a further two minutes in arrears.
Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven then attacked the peloton, a bizarre move by Trek-Segafredo that didn’t last long, while Pöstlberger dropped Archbold on the approach to the penultimate climb of the day, a 7km-long category two ascent.
15km to go and Pöstlberger had nearly three minutes as Holmes was caught by the bunch, Archbold soon also back in, DSM’s Marco Brenner going the other way up the road
Into the final 10km and the Bora-Hansgrohe rider had just under two minutes, the odds in his favour, as Ineos controlled the proceedings, Tim Wellens dropping back to help the yellow jersey Van Moer who was struggling, as Chris Froome dropped too.
Felix Gall was the next DSM rider to try something, which only lasted momentarily, as the gap dropped under a minute, Van Moer now a further minute behind, as Pöstlberger finally reached the summit of the penultimate climb, before Ag2r’s Ben O’Connor hit out as the peloton also reached the top.
A short descent before the final climb of the day, a category four, within the final 5km of the stage.
As O’Connor was brought back by a much-reduced peloton, Pöstlberger was only 20 seconds ahead with 3km to go, the likes of Sonny Colbrelli and Bahrain-Victorious smelling blood.
Pöstlberger wasn’t ready to give up just yet, however, the downhill giving him some hope as the Austrian began to feel the burn.
Under the flamme rouge and Pöstlberger was still ahead, the peloton now charging behind, but now in time to catch the Austrian who sailed over the line with time to spare before Colbrelli arrived second once more, Valverde just behind him.
Results Critérium du Dauphiné 2021, stage two: Brioude to Saugues (172.8km)
1. Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-25-20
2. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 11 seconds
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at same time
4. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step
5. Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
6. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
7. Ilan Van Wilder (Bel) DSM
8. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Ag2r Citroën
9. Alex Aranburu (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech
10. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Lukas Pöstlberger (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 8-38-32
2. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, at 12 seconds
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 20s
4. Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck - Quick-Step, at 24s
5. Alex Aranburu (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, at same time
6. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
7. Michael Valgren (Den) EF Education - Nippo
8. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis
9. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
10. Ilan Van Wilder (Bel) DSM
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