Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) sprinted to victory on the first road stage of the 2018 Giro d’Italia, beating Jakub Mareczko (Wilier Triestina) to the line on stage two.
Viviani’s speed in the final 50 metres could not be matched by anyone as he rounded his fellow Italian Mareczko who had launched his sprint first on the left hand side of the road towards the finish in Tel Aviv.
Mareczko had come from far back in the bunch with a fine turn of speed, and was able to hold on for second place ahead of Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) who reacted too late to the sprints ahead of him.
Rohan Dennis (BMC) took over the race lead from Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), picking up three bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint of the day to bridge the two second deficit between them after the opening time trial.
There were no significant time gaps between the main GC contenders, with the likes of Chris Froome (Team Sky) as well as Dumoulin and Dennis arriving safely in the bunch.
How it happened
A hot day welcomed the riders for the second stage in Israel, with 167km on the cards from Haifa to Tel Aviv.
There was a sense that no team was willing to risk any energy too early with a headwind for much of the course, but Davide Ballerini (Androni Giocattoli) and Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal) were the first two riders to get free and form a breakaway.
They were eventually joined by Guy Sagiv (Israel Cycling Academy), establishing a maximum gap of over three minutes on the bunch.
Their lead was never going to last though, with BMC keen on bringing it all back together to have two goes – through the only categorised climb and an intermediate sprint – at some bonus seconds for their leader Rohan Dennis, who sat just two seconds off the race lead.
That meant the break were practically caught with 76km to go on the only climb, but Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF) was able to break clear of the bunch, taking maximum points over the categorised climb with Guillaume Boivin (Israel Cycling Academy) behind.
BMC then prepared for their second bite at the cherry, pushing the pace on the front to lead out Rohan Dennis, who successfully took the intermediate sprint bonus of three seconds at 61.5km to go, ahead of Elia Viviani.
Victor Campanaerts (Lotto Soudal), who sat on the same time as Dennis after the stage one time trial, missed out on bonus seconds and a chance at the maglia rosa, and decided to go alone in the breakaway after the sprint point, but was caught quickly after at 55km to go.
Boivin then went clear with just over 50km to go and got 1-40, with the peloton happy to let him toil alone out front as they prepared for the sprint finish. His solo efforts were in vain, as the peloton closed in on him with 17.5km to go.
Things began to get very nervous within the final 10km as teams jostled for position on the twisty, narrow roads into the city of Tel Aviv.
As the speed ramped up, there was a puncture for Wout Poels with 5.2km to go, with his Sky team-mate Sergio Henao giving him a wheel to try and get him back in contention, however he eventually lost 40 seconds.
There were a couple of short lived attacks towards the finish, with José Gonçalves (Katusha-Alpecin) trying with 3.2km, as did Tosh van der Sande (Lotto-Soudal) with 2km remaining.
But the pace was far too high for an individual rider to get away, with Quick-Step moving to the front with Zdenek Stybar in the final 1.5km, setting things up for Viviani.
Bora-Hansgrohe were most prominent team towards the front of affairs in the final few hundred metres in support of Sam Bennett, but it was Jakob Mareczko who moved up on the left side of the road to launch his sprint first.
Viviani instinctively jumped on his wheel, and as Mareczko moved across to the right, Viviani was free to go full force and beat everyone to win the stage.
Mareczko was able to hold on for second place, while Bennett, after reacting too late to the charging Italian pair, took third place.
Sunday’s stage three will see another opportunity for the sprinters in Israel before the race moves back to Italy, with 229km from Be’er Sheva to Eilat.
Giro d’Italia 2018 stage two: Haifa – Tel Aviv (167km)
1 Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors, in 03-51-20
2 Jakub Mareczko (Ita) Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia
3 Sam Bennett (Irl) Bora-Hansgrohe
4 Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
5 Sacha Modolo (Ita) EF Education First-Drapac
6 Clement Venturini (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
7 Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension Data
8 Manuel Belletti (Ita) Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec
9 Baptiste Planckaert (Bel) Katusha-Alpecin
10 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team, all same time
Overall classification after stage two
1 Rohan Dennis (Aus) BMC Racing Team, in 04-03-21
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1s
3 Victor Campenaerts (Bel) Lotto Soudal, at 3s
4 José Gonçalves (Por) Katusha-Alpecin, at 13s
5 Alex Dowsett (GBr) Katusha-Alpecin, at 17s
6 Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana Pro Team, at 19s
7 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 21s
8 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Quick-Step Floors, at 22s
9 Tony Martin (Ger) Katusha-Alpecin, at 28s
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, st