Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sprinted to victory on stage two of the Volta a Catalunya, proving too fast for Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) and Jay McCarthy (Bora-Hansgrohe) to move into the race lead.
37-year-old Valverde, twice a winner of the race overall, took his eighth Volta a Catalunya stage victory at a flat end to a slow stage in north-east Spain.
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The riders finished an hour behind the slowest time schedule as the pace only went up on the final climb with 15km remaining, with no one able to attack off the front but with race leader Alvaro Hodeg (Quick-Step Floors) quickly dropped.
In the end it came down to a reduced bunch sprint, with Valverde biding his time in the headwind blowing up the finishing straight, and coming off the wheel of McCarthy to win the stage, take the bonus seconds, and move into the race lead ahead back-to-back summit finishes on stages three and four.
How it happened
The second stage of the Volta a Catalunya started with one fewer rider than had finished the first stage after Nacer Bouhanni was withdrawn from the race by his Cofidis team due to ongoing illness, and soon saw the peloton reduced by three more riders as Igor Merino (Burgos-BH), Antonio Molina (Caja Rural), and Mikel Bizkarra (Euskadi-Murias) formed the day’s early breakaway.
That trio quickly established a lead of three minutes on the early Pont de la Font de Cera climb, a gap which remained fairly steady even as a closed level crossing disrupted the race with 72km to go.
With the break stuck at the level crossing the peloton was brought to a halt behind to maintain the time gap, although Quick-Step were then able to quickly bring the gap down towards a minute as the day progressed at a pedestrian pace.
As the gap to the breakaway came down, Andrey Grivko (Astana) saw the opportunity to bridge across, making light work of the brief solo effort to make it four riders at the front of the race with a gap of slightly over a minute with 53km remaining.
However despite the added firepower of Grivko, the break didn’t last much longer as the peloton made the catch, before Cyril Barthe launched an opportunistic counter-attack that gained him 20 second and no more.
Barthe’s effort was admirable but futile as he sat 20 seconds off the front of the peloton for kilometre after kilometre before being caught at the start of the final climb with 15km remaining.
The first attack on the climb came from Jérémy Maison (Fortuneo-Samsic), but he was quickly pulled back by the Movistar-led peloton, with the Spanish team’s pace also doing for race leader Alvaro Hodeg (Quick-Step Floors) who was dropped.
Midway up the five kilometre climb and Mitchelton-Scott hit the front hard, thinning the group out considerably, but acting as a launch pad for an attack by Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Latour took maximum points at the top of the climb but had the peloton close behind meaning that it all came back together for the descent towards the finish line in Valls.
Mitchelton-Scott continued to lead the peloton down the descent and onto the flat final five kilometres, before Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) took over through the final few hundred metres in an attempt to set up Jay McCarthy.
However waiting in the wheels was Valverde, who timed his sprint into the headwind to perfection to not only take the stage win, but also move into the race lead.
Volta a Catalunya, stage two: Mataró to Valls, 175.6km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 4-41-50
2. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
3. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky
5. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-Merida
6. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
7. José Joaquín Rojas (Esp) Movistar
8. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Sky
9. Toms Skujiņš (Lat) Trek-Segafredo
10. Alex Howes (USA) EF Education First-Drapac, all same time
General classification after stage two
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 8-21-09
2. Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 4 secs
3. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott, at 6 secs
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 11 secs
5. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-Merida, at 12 secs
6. Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors, at 12 secs
7. Eduard Prades (Esp) Euskadi-Murias, at 12 secs
8. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 12 secs
9. Jordi Simón (Esp) Burgos-BH, at 12 secs
10. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, at 12 secs