An effortless Julian Alaphilippe continued his impeccable season as he won stage two of the Tour of the Basque Country.
The Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider grasped the opportunity on a day perfectly suited to his punchy climbing abilities.
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On the unpredictable opening road stage, that featured gravel roads and early categorised climbs, Alaphillippe opened up his perfectly timed sprint on the short uphill finish to take an easy win.
The only major general classification action came in the final 20km, as Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) suffered a mechanical that resulted in the Brit losing more than a minute at the line.
Race leader Maximilian Schachmann secured another day at the top, finishing in the front group.
How it happened
The second stage of the Tour of the Basque Country presented an enticing spectacle, designed to produce unpredictable racing.
After the opening time trial on stage one set the scene, day two was a 149km run from Zumarraga near the northern coast to Gorraiz outside Pamplona, further inland.
The stage opened with an unclassified climb, before a long descent to the foot of the first categorised ascent of the day, Olbaberria.
At 1.6km-long and an average 7.5 per cent, the third category climb softened the peloton before the final official climb, Lizarrusti – 6.4km at 4.7 per cent.
With the categorised climbs out of the way just 40km into the stage, riders faced a relentlessly undulating course over the final 100km with some surprises along the way.
The course also featured almost 5km of unpaved races, which were unlikely to shake up the race in themselves but threatened to shift the dynamic come the final.
Finally, the day was likely to be decided in the last kilometres, with a 1km-long false flat section leading into a brutal 600m run to the line at 8.1 per cent.
The day’s breakaway went clear early, formed of four riders.
Darwin Atapuma (Cofidis), Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo), Julen Amezqueta (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Garikoitz Bravo (Euskadi) extended their gap out to almost three minutes at the maximum before the peloton began to wind them in.
Bora-Hansgrohe controlled the pace for much of the day, as their rider Maximilian Schachmann held the leader’s yellow jersey after his TT victory.
The break was caught very early – around 50km from home – as the peloton fixed its attention on the final
Pace over the closing third of the course was rapid, as GC teams tried to test each other in the hope of creating gaps in the final.
But the only big casualty of the action was Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates, who dropped to the back with team-mates after suffering a mechanical in the final 20km.
After taking a team-mate’s bike, Yates formed part of a large chasing group that had fallen 50 seconds back on the bunch as Astana drove the pace at the front.
As the race hit the final 5km, Astana continued to lead with Team Sky and Bora-Hansgrohe also holding the head of the peloton.
Alaphilippe, Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky), and Schachmann were amongst the favourites showing their intentions in the final.
Bora were the first to open up as the race hit the final steep section, with Schachmann firing off the front early.
But it was Lotto-Soudal’s Bjorg Lambrecht who looked as though he could spoil the day for the favourites, launching after Schachmann and quickly passing the German.
Lambrecht pulled out a significant gap, but appeared to have misjudged the distance to the line as Alaphilippe quickly gained.
At the final turn Alaphilippe passed Lambrecht and rode to another effortless victory.
Schachmann’s failed early attack still saw him finish in the top-10 and ensured him another day in the race leader’s jersey.
Yates stormed up the final climb but wasn’t able to pull back any lost time, finishing 1-10 down on Alaphilippe.
Tour of the Basque Country 2019 stage two: Zumarraga to Gorraiz (149.5km)
1.Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, in 3-29-37
2.Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 1 second
3. Michał Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
4. Omar Fraile (Esp) Astana
5. Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
6. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
7. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
8. Ion Izagirre( Esp) Astana
9. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
10. Pieter Serry (Bel) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 3-36-44
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 5s
3. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at 10s
4. Daniel Martinez (Col) EF Education First, at 18s
5. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 23s
6. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
7. Enric Mas (Esp) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 28s
8. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida, at 36s
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, at 39s,
10. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 41s