Nairo Quintana won stage two of the Vuelta a España 2019 after springing from a select group with 3km to go while Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) finished second to take the leader’s red jersey off Astana’s Miguel Ángel Lopez.
The Movistar rider was part of a six-man move that went away over the second category climb on the run-in to the finish, with Quintana holding off his former collaborators to take the victory and move into second on GC, just two seconds behind Roche.
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Primož Roglič finished third after the Jumbo-Visma rider did his best to reel in the Colombian, limiting his losses to just five seconds across the line.
Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First) finished fourth while Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates) rode to an impressive fifth place finish.
Speaking after the stage, Roche said at the moment he believed the plan was to stick to Sunweb’s goal of supporting Wilco Kelderman. However, the Irishman added he believed he’d shown enough on stage two, having taken the red jersey, to be given the opportunity to defend it.
Ineos’ Tao Geoghegan Hart and Wout Poels finished nearly ten minutes down on the stage, a fatal blow to any GC aspirations the British squad had held.
How it happened
Stage two offered a lumpy parcours, with a second category climb towards the finish that provided a significant challenge for the sprinters to get over if they were going to contest a bunch sprint.
Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) and Sander Armée (Lotto-Soudal) were the first two riders to get themselves in a break with around 150km to go, with Willie Smit (Katusha-Alpecin) soon joining them.
Madrazo won both of the early KOMs as Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) joined the front group to make the escapees number four riders with 140km to go, nearly seven minutes ahead of the peloton.
The gap had come down to under four minutes with 70km remaining, and by the time they saw the finish line on the opposite side of the road with 43km left their advantage was only 1-30.
Armée then attacked from the breakaway before also taking the intermediate sprint, which Roglič was third to, picking up one bonus second, as the break were caught with 30km to go and the second category Alto de Puig Llorença climb loomed up ahead.
The attacks soon started to come as the riders tackled the 3.1km climb with an average 8.8% gradient. Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) tried his luck before Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) accelerated twice, punctuated by Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) stretching his legs.
Valverde was first to the summit, beating Latour and George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) in the sprint, before the Frenchman attacked on the descent, trying to go solo.
On the descent, with 20km to go, Roche and Nieve attacked, taking with them Quintana, Urán, Roglič and Aru.
The six worked hard to build their advantage, with the fight going out of López’s chase group behind with 7km left, eventually crossing the finish line nearly 40 seconds down, as the Colombian forfeited the race lead.
Quintana had certainly laid down a marker to the other race favourites, but it was the veteran Roche who had stormed into the race lead, who now sits two seconds ahead of the Colombian in the general classification.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage two: Benidorm to Calpe
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, in 5-11-17
2. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Sunweb, at five seconds
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma
4. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education First
5. Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates, all at same time
6. Mikel Nieve (Esp) Mitchelton-Scott, at eight seconds
7. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education First, at 37s
8. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
9. Alex Aranburu (Esp) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
10. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Sunweb, in 5-26-12
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at two seconds
3. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education First, at eight seconds
4. Mikel Nieve (Esp) Mitchelton-Scott, at 22s
5. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 33s
6. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 36s
7. Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), at 38s
8. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education First, at 40s
9. Davide Formolo (Ita) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 46s
10. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time