Julian Alaphilippe waited until the perfect moment to out-sprint his rivals in a tense Tirreno-Adriatico stage two.
The Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider was invisible in the bunch until the final climb of the day, and held back as attacks threatened to tear the race to pieces in the final.
As a reduced group reached the final 200m, Alaphilippe went head-to-head with Greg Van Avermaet and held off the better sprinter to take the stage.
Adam Yates took the overall lead of the race and sits on the same time as Mitchelton-Scott team-mate Brent Bookwalter thanks to the team’s victory on the stage one team time trial. Yates finished fifth on the stage and now sits seven seconds ahead of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) on general classification.
How it happened
The first road stage of the 2019 Tirreno-Adtriatico saw the peloton tackle an undulating course over 195km from Camaiore to Pomarance.
A mid-way categorised climb in Castellina Marittima softened up the racers before the real challenges in the closing 50km.
Another climb to Serrazzano followed 148km into the race, before the peloton descended to the foot of the final test – a 12km ascent with gradients hitting 16 per cent on the road to Pomarance.
That punchy finish has previously been won by Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) in 2017 and Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) the previous year.
The day’s breakaway, which formed in the opening 20km, consisted of Natnael Berhane (Cofidis), Stepan Kurianov (Gazprom-Rusvelo), Sebastian Schönberger (Neri Sottoli-Selle Italia), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF) and Markel Irizar (Trek-Segafredo).
A relatively sedate pace in the peloton saw the escapees build up a five minute advantage with 100km left to race, as race leader’s Mitchelton-Scott headed up the chase.
That easy speed continued as the bunch slowly started to narrow down the breakaway gap, which dropped to 3-30 with 50km left on the clock.
Race leader Michael Hepburn contributed to the pace setting in the peloton, haven taken the blue jersey after Mitchelton-Scott’s team time trial victory on stage one.
The action was sparse until the 20km mark, when Deceuninck – Quick-Step hit the front and started to drive the pace on a descent, causing a momentarily split in the peloton.
Jumbo-Visma closed down the gap as the peloton was strung out in a line, with the breakaway’s advantage tumbled to 45 seconds.
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), who has been suffering from illness, was dropped from the peloton in the closing stages and was out of contention for a stage that may have suited his dynamic style.
The break was eventually caught with 13km to go, after a day of battling for King of the Mountain points between them.
An enticing mix of teams lined up at the front of the bunch 10km from the line, including Mitchelton-Scott for GC hope Adam Yates and CCC Team, who hoped to fire Greg Van Avermaet to stage glory.
Jumbo-Visma also make their intentions clear for their leader Primož Roglič, who is looking to take a second consecutive stage race victory.
The road ramped up to 16 per cent at the 8km mark, sparking Mitchelton-Scott into action as they drove up the pace to test their rivals.
But the bunch stayed together as the line approached, with puncheur Alaphilippe appearing at the front of the race for the first time.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Oss was the first launch an attack 5.9km from the finish, holding a slim advantage for less than a kilometre before being swept up by the driving peloton.
Tension prevailed as Astana rode up alongside Mitchelton-Scott at the head of affairs, with no rider willing to risk an attack.
A solo move from Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step broke the stalemate. He was quickly caught but Jakob Fuglsang and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) immediately fired off the front, followed by Simon Clarke (EF Education First).
The attacks finally split the peloton, as a small group formed at the head of the race.
Roglič made the cut and quickly launched a counter-attack, followed only by Lutsenko and Clarke.
Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) utilised his time trial prowess to bridge across to the front, with Stybar (Deceuninck – Quick-Step also joining.
The impetus fell away with 1.4km as the remains of the peloton caught up.
Roglič clearly had matches to burn as he drove the pace on the front, once again causing a split. This time Lutsenko and Alaphilippe stuck to his wheel.
But this attack stalled, as the main group once again regrouped.
It was all together into the final 400m, setting up a reduced bunch sprint to the line.
Alaphillippe and Van Avermaet struck out in the final 200m, but it was the Frenchman who had held enough back to sprint to glory on stage two.
Van Avermaet held on to second, followed by Clarke who was right on the wheel of the Belgian.
Tirreno-Adriatico stage two: Camaiore to Pomarance (195km)
1 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, in 4-48-09
2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team
3 Alberto Bettiol (Ita) EF Education First
4 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
5 Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
6 Valerio Conti (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
7 Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma
8 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky
9 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team
10 Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto Soudal, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1 Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, 5-10-34
2 Brent Bookwalter (USA) Mitchelton-Scott, at same time
3 Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 7s
4 Laurens De Plus (Bel) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
5 Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Sunweb, at 22s
6 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb
7 Sam Oomen (Ned) Team Sunweb, all at same time
8 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 27s
9 Kasper Asgreen (Den) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 37s
10 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at same time