Michael Matthews sails to victory on stage two of Volta a Catalunya 2019
The Australian was perfectly positioned on the final uphill sprint, taking an emphatic win
Michael Matthews out-sprinted Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to take his first win of 2019 on stage two of the Volta a Catalunya.
The Sunweb rider was patient on the final uphill run to the line, opening his sprint late and taking a clear victory.
After a disappointing 2018, the Australian appears to be returning to his best having finished 12th in both Milan-San Remo and Omloop Het Niewsblad.
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) finished safely in the bunch to hold onto his overall lead, while Chris Froome's general classification hopes ended after he finished 10 minutes down.
How it happened
Stage two presented the first opportunity for the puncheurs, with a flat 166.7km run from Mataró on the coast near Barcelona to Sant Feliu de Guíxols further north.
After the challenging climbs of stage one, day two featured a trio of third category ascents spread throughout the route that weren't expected to cause problems for the fast men.
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The final climb Alt de Romanyà, 5.8km-long at 4.5 per cent, came 30km from the finish with a long descent followed by a few minor hills.
A tight and winding finish awaited the peloton, with a long uphill drag to the line more suited to all-rounders than pure sprinters.
Early in the day a three-man breakaway pulled clear of the peloton, made up of Josef Černy (CCC Team), Jonas Gwisly (Astana) and Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert).
De Gendt was absent from the move as he worked to defend his lead in the overall classification, having taken 2-48 in a solo stage victory on stage one.
The gap to the breakaway extended to seven minutes in the opening half of the stage, but the peloton were reluctant for a repeat of the first stage and wound the escapees back in.
With 35km to ride, the advantage had tumbled to one minute as Chris Froome (Team Sky) and two Bora-Hansgrohe riders were involved in a crash, with Froome forced to wait for a bike change.
He was able to get back on the bike but quickly fell two minutes behind the peloton and tried to chase back on with a group of five who had also been left behind.
As the breakaway's advantage tumbled, the final climb took its toll with only Černy able to ride on alone to the summit, the gap at 23 seconds with 28km to the line.
The Czech national champion pressed on and pulled the advantage back out to 30 seconds, but was finally caught just inside 25km.
Astana drove the pace at the front causing Froome to drop further back, the gap extending to 4-2 as it looked like any GC hopes for the four-time Tour winner were over before they began.
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The Kazakh team continued riding hard on the front on the long straight roads heading back to the coast, dropping a small group of riders in the process.
Team Sky then hit the front with 10km to ride protect Egan Bernal in the chaos of the bunch sprint.
Natnael Berhane (Cofidis) attempted a last-ditch attempt at 6km, dangling off the front of the peloton but was caught a few hundred meters later.
Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) attacked on a slight including 3km from home, but was kept on a tight leash.
The tight winding final kilometres took the speed out of the peloton as riders spread across the road as they hit the final straight all together.
Mitchelton-Scott opened up their lead-out first, but Matthews sat second wheel on the long uphill drag to the line, finally coming out of cover 100 metres from the line and sprinting clear of Alejandro Valverde to take the win.
Froome eventually crossed the line around 14 minutes down on the front of the race.
Volta a Catalunya stage two: Mataró to Sant Feliu de Guíxols (166.7km)
1. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb, in 4-09-34
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team
3. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Wanty-Gobert
6. James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck-QuickStep
7. Patrick Bevin (NZl) CCC Team
8. Enrico Gasparotto (Ita) Dimension Data
9. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe
10. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal, in 8-23-50
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 2-47
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb, at 2-48
4. Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
5. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott, in 2-54
6. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, in 2-56
7. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, in 2-57
8. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma
9. Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Esp) Cofidis, Solutions Credits, at same time
10. Patrick Bevin (NZl) CCC Team, 2-58
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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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