Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) underlined his strong form in the 2018 Tour of the Basque Country, sprinting to win stage two of the race on Tuesday after also winning the previous day’s opener.
The Frenchman had attacked on the final climb of the stage while in the yellow jersey of overall leader, with only Mikel Landa (Movistar), Primož Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) able to follow.
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In a copy of the previous day’s stage, Alaphilippe once again sprinted ahead of Roglič to take the win. Izagirre came in for third.
It’s Alaphilippe’s third victory of the year, and a stunning 23rd win for his Quick-Step Floors team after barely three months of racing.
Alaphilippe now enjoys an eight-second lead over Roglič overall thanks to his time bonuses, with Izagirre in third at 39 seconds. Landa is fourth at 43 seconds.
How it happened
The escape group took a while to form after a very fast start and crosswinds split the peloton on the stage that had been shortened due to landslides in the weeks leading up to the race start.
It was only after 70km that a group of 11 riders managed to get into a break, comprising Tao Geoghegan Hart and David Lopez (Team Sky), Tsgabu Grmay and Ruben Guerreiro (Trek-Segafredo), Alessandro De Marchi and Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing), Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac), Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r La Mondiale), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Carlos Verona (Mitchelton-Scott) and Mark Padun (Bahrain-Merida).
Particularly notable was the presence of Caruso in the break, after he crashed after coming into contact with a car parked at the side of the road towards the end of the opening stage.
With the escape group full of experienced and strong riders, the bunch was not keen on letting them gain too much time. Alaphilippe’s Quick-Step Floors did a great deal of the pace-setting.
Heading into the final 50km, the break’s advantage was only a minute and a half, and dropped to under a minute as the break passed the 25km-to-go marker.
One of the other teams that had missed getting a rider in the break – Astana – joined in the chase, stringing out the bunch and putting several riders out the back into the hilly stage finale.
Lopez attacked from the escape group with 16km to go, sensing a catch becoming more and more of an imminent possibility. The rest of the break conceded defeat shortly after and rejoined the bunch.
Lopez was quickly caught on the final classified climb of San Pelaio. Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) was then the first to attack, with 9.3km to go, bobbing out of the saddle on the tricky climb.
His first effort lasted for less than a kilometre as a select chase group caught up with him, but then he tried again with 8.3km… but then blew as he was caught on the steep section of the ascent.
Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) put in a big acceleration towards the top of the climb. As he was caught, team-mate Alaphilippe made an equally big acceleration with 7.5km to go and no-one responded immediately.
The chase group seemed unwillingly to work together initially, weaving all over the road. Roglič was the first to break the deadlock and bridge over to Alaphilippe, followed by Landa and then Gorka Izagirre. The quartet created a significant gap over a group including Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) on the descent.
Into the tricky final kilometre, Roglič opened up his sprint first but Alaphilippe simply out-paced his rival to take his second consecutive victory and increase his overall lead. The chase group came in 15 seconds behind them.
The 2018 Tour of the Basque Country continues on Wednesday with stage three, another hilly stage for the riders to tackle, running from Bermeo to Valdegovía over 184.8km. The race concludes on Saturday, April 7.
Tour of the Basque Country 2018, stage two: Zarautz to Bermeo, 166.7km
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-11-47
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo
3. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at same time
5. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 15 secs
6. Eduard Prades (Esp) Euskadi-Murias
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana
8. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
9. Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-Step Floors
10. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 8-29-13
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 8 secs
3. Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 39 secs
4. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 43 secs
5. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at 54 secs
6. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 58 secs
7. Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 58 secs
8. Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 58 secs
9. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 58 secs
10. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 58 secs