Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) won stage two of the Vuelta a España, with Michał Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) adopting the red leader’s jersey.
A group of seven escapees attacked from the flag, but were never allowed more than four minutes free reign.
Entering the final climb, Team Sky came to the fore – driving the pace and causing the likes of Richie Porte (BMC), red jersey Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) to lose time.
Sky’s pacing efforts delivered Kwiatkowski to the finish in prime position, but it was Valverde who powered to the line first, with late attacker Laurens De Plus (Quick-Step Floors) holding on for third.
A small group including Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates) came in 8s later whilst Nibali crossed the threshold 4-04 down.
The biggest GC time losses of the day went to Dennis and Porte, who, alongside Adam Yates finished 13-31 down on the stage winner.
How it happened
The 163.5 kilometre stage from Marbella to Caminito del Rey provided the first of a catalogue of summit finishes at this year’s Spanish Grand Tour – however at 5.1 km in length and averaging 3.3 per cent the Alto de Guadalhorce represented a gentle enough warm up in preparation for the mountains to come.
The race went uphill almost from the line, and a group of seven escapees chose their fate in the early slopes of the Puerto de Ojen.
The group included Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), as well as Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Pierre Rolland (EF-Drapac), Pablo Torres (Burgos-BH), Jonathan Lastras (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Hector Saez (Euskadi-Murias).
The breakaways were able to establish a gap of 1 minute 30 before 6km had passed, maintaining a steady rhythm over the 4.5 per cent climb.
First to the summit was De Gendt, with Rolland second – and once the descent had been dispatched, with 143km to go the gap had grown to 3 minutes.
What came next was a selection of rolling climbs, with the next significant feature being the Alto de Guadalhorce, to be crested once at 91km, and again at the finish.
BMC, home to general classification leader after stage one – Rohan Dennis – controlled the pace of the peloton, with others happy to leave them to it.
Come the first encounter of the finish climb, the break had 4-15 on the peloton. The ascent – the summit of which came 400 metres before the line – provided riders with a handy opportunity to test their tactics.
On the warm-up lap, Luis Mate attacked his breakaway companions near the top, cresting first, followed by De Gendt and Rolland.
With 56km to go, the leaders approached the bottom of the next climb – Alto de Ardales. At this point, breakaway-specialist De Gendt appeared to conclude that the escapees – whose advantage had never been in excess of four minutes – were doomed.
The Belgian rider dropped off the back of the other six, returning to the team car and allowing himself to drift back to the peloton – the gap sitting stagnant at 2-45.
By the time De Gendt was absorbed, the advantage had dropped to 2-10.
The pace of the bunch increased – and with 35km remaining, and just one ascent of the Alto de Guadalhorce to go, the distance between the two groups was 1-37.
With 32km left, the harmony of the break was shattered by an attack from Gougeard. Rolland pounced onto his wheel – leaving Torres (Burgos-BH), Lastras (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Saez (Euskadi-Murias) to chase, fatigue clearly setting in.
Soon the two French due of Gougeard and Rolland had gained 28s, with the remaining four only 58s ahead of the peloton.
With less than 30km left, Team Sky came to the fore for the first time of the day – with Movistar lending some might as well.
The catch came at 27km – but there were still two more riders ahead, now with 49s on the rest of the race, growing to 52s at 21.5km to go.
As the road ramped up, Gougeard dropped off the wheel of Rolland – leaving the EF-Education rider alone, and quickly losing time – his advantage gone at 19km left.
The climbing continued, and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – whose combination of fast legs and climbing capability had seen him touted as a potential stage winner – was seen drifting off the back of the peloton, having doused himself with water earlier under the 32ºc heat.
Team Sky’s blistering pace began to create gaps in the peloton – the red jersey of Rohan Dennis dropping back, alongside BMC’s GC hopeful Richie Porte, and Sagan – the distance quickly clocking up to over three minutes with 11.2km left.
At 7.5km remaining, another split saw Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) lose contact – whilst the group containing Dennis and Porte was 5 minutes back.
With 1.5km to go, Laurens De Plus (Quick-Step Floors) attacked. Under the flamme rouge he had seconds on the bunch – and looked to be caught, before the peloton behind began to look around at each other.
Valverde came to the front, with 500m left, Kwiakotwski on his wheel – at which point De Plus’ move was obliterated. Once the gap was demolished Kwiatkowski took over, Valverde on his wheel – allowing the Spaniard to accelerate and take the win as De Plus held his own for third.
The pace set by Sky, combined perhaps with headaches left over from Tour de France injuries, meant several GC contenders lost their footing, notably Nibali is now down on the race leader by 4-44, and Porte by 14-22.
Stage 2 – Marbella to Caminito del Rey (163.5km)
1 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team in 4-13-01
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky at same time
3 Laurens De Plus (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 3s
4 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb
5 George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo
6 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
7 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
8 Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac
9 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
10 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky in 4-22-40
2 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team at 14s
3 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb at 25s
4 Laurens De Plus (Bel) Quick-Step Floors at 28s
5 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida at 30s
6 Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at same time
7 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe at 32s
8 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at 33s
9 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time