Tadej Pogačar is showing no signs of slowing down in 2020, beating Alejandro Valverde to stage honours on day two of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
The rising Slovenian star rode a perfectly paced final climb on eight per cent gradients, waiting until the final moments to scorch past former world champion Valverde at the line.
Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), winner of three stages in last year’s Vuelta a España, takes the race lead from Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) with three stages still to race.
How it happened
Stage two of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana was an enticing proposition for both riders and fans, with a 181km stage from Torrent to Cullera, just south of the city of Valencia.
The course featured two second category climbs in the first half, Dos Aguas at 4.8km and 4.7 per cent and then Alto Millares at 11.6km and 3.5 per cent.
Lumpy terrain followed for the next 30km, before a long, flat drag out to the coast, but before the race could be decided the peloton faced a sharp 2km, eight per cent climb to the line, well suited to punchy climbers like Valverde.
Early in the stage five riders went clear, mostly from the big teams putting a rider up the road with an eye on that final climb.
Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Jos van Emden (Jumbo-Visma), Alessandro De Marchi (CCC Team) and Hector Saez and Álvaro Cuadros from Caja Rural-Seguros RGA made up the early break, taking out almost a five minute advantage at the maximum.
The bunch left the escapees on a loose leash, with the gap falling to three minutes with just 30km to race, then inside 20km the breakaway riders were still around 90 seconds further up the road, as Cuadros sat up and rejoined the peloton, leaving four riders up front.
That gap sparked the peloton into action, the gap coming down to 30 seconds with 10km to the line, as Lotto-Soudal turned on the gas with CCC Team tucked behind at the head of the peloton.
Cavagna then attacked the break as the gap slipped down to 15 seconds, as his companions let him slip away up the road, but the Frenchman was finally caught and the peloton was all together at the foot of the climb.
A dangerous attack from Gonzalo Serrano (Caja Rural) threatened to upset the favourites, but he faded quickly as Gianni Moscon (Team Ineos) countered.
It was Moscon’s turn to fade as Valverde stalked his wheel and then made his own dash for the line.
The Spanish national champion looked like he had the race sewn up but in the final turn it was the young Pogačar who power around the outside to cross the line first, Valverde second and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-McLaren) third.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2020, stage two: Torrent to Cullera (181km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 4-14-26
2. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar
3. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-McLaren
4. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation
5. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
6. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana
7. Rubén Fernández (Esp) Fundación-Orbea
8. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Ineos
9. Tao Hart Geoghegan (GBr) Team Ineos, all at same time
10. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team, in 5s
General classification after stage two
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 8-22-09
2. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar
4. Rubén Fernández (Esp) Fundación-Orbea
5. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-McLaren
6. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Team Ineos
7. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana
9. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, all at same time
10. Matej Mohorič (Slo) Bahrain-McLaren, at 2s