Niccolò Bonifazio charged clear of the peloton in the final kilometre to deny his rivals on stage two of the Saudi Tour.
The Italian from Total Direct Energie followed a sneak attack from Heinrich Haussler on a gentle climb in the final, with the pair securing a narrow gap.
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After avoiding a race motorbike that threatened to ruin their chances, Haussler (Bahrain-McLaren) faded in the last 500m and Bonifazio launched off his wheel to finish just ahead of the surging bunch and take the stage.
Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) finished safely in the bunch and held his narrow lead overall.
How it happened
Stage two was expected to be a show for the pure sprinters, with a mostly flat 182km out-and-back route from Sadus Castle to the capital Riyadh.
The course featured plenty of uncategorised lumps along the road, but the final 80km was almost all downhill setting up a rapid final few kilometres.
With the crosswinds falling away after a hectic opening stage, four riders jumped into the day’s breakaway, building a 1-40 lead after just 5km.
The four escaping riders Kevin Van Melsen (Circus-Wanty Gobert), Ángel Fuentes (Burgos-BH) , Nikodemus Holler (Bike Aid) and Joel Nicolau (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) settled in for a very long day in the Saudi desert.
Drama descended on the race within the first 70km when a handful of riders went down in a crash, including Mark Cavendish (Bahrain-McLaren) who needed a bandage to his leg after he is believed to have suffered a cut from a chainring.
Cavendish was able to get back on and was paced back to the bunch looking fairly comfortable in the bunch despite the fall.
With 25km to race it was Arkéa-Samsic and Bahrain-McLaren leading the bunch for their respective sprinters Nacer Bouhanni and Cavendish, as the breakaways’ advantage sat at 1-04.
The breakaway was caught inside 20km, then at 10km another crash in the middle of the bunch took down a selection of riders, with Cavendish being held up by the collision and losing contact with the bunch.
He managed to re-join the tail with around 8km to race and rejoined the Bahrain train, but the team opted to back Phil Bauhaus for the sprint.
The race looked all set for a sprint finish, with a tight and winding final 3km keeping the peloton on edge.
Bahrain-McLaren led the bunch into the final kilometre, as Haussler charged into a sharp right hand turn and ramped up the power on the following shallow climb.
Haussler got the gap as Bonifazio sprinted away from the bunch and tagged onto his wheel.
The Australian led Bonifazio when a race moto got in their way on the exit from a roundabout.
Fortunately the motorbike didn’t completely shut down their advantage, as Haussler faded rapidly in the final 500m, Bonifazio having saved enough energy to sprint past and ride to the lone just ahead of the bunch.
It was Haussler’s team-mate Phil Bauhaus who led in the rest of the bunch to finish second, while Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa-Samsic) took his second podium of the race by finishing third.
Rui Costa still leads the race by just one second over Haussler, with Bouhanni still third at two seconds.
Saudi Tour 2020, stage two: Sadus Castle to Riyadh (182km)
1. Niccolò Bonifazio (Ita) Total Direct Energie, in 4-32-31
2. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-McLaren, at 2s
3. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic
4. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Circus-Wanty Gobert
5. Jens Debusschere (Bel) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept
6. Orluis Aular (Ven) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
7. Imerio Cima (Ita) Gazprom-RusVelo
8. August Jensen (Nor) Riwal Readynez
9. Julien Trarieux (Fra) Nippo Delko One Provence
10. Youcef Reguigui (Iri) Terengganu Inc TSG, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Rui Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates, in 8-24-35
2. Heinrich Haussler (Aus) Bahrain-McLaren, at 1s
3. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Arkéa-Samsic, at 2s
4. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-McLaren, at 4s
5. Andreas Kron (Den) Riwal Readynez, at 9s
6. Jens Debusschere (Bel) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept, at 10s
7. Carlos Barbero (Esp) NTT Pro Cycling
8. Matteo Malucelli (Ita) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
9. Sergei Chernetski (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo
10. Lucas Carstensen (Bike Aid), all at same time