Nicolas Roche (Sunweb), after taking the Vuelta a España lead on stage two, says he wants to defend the red jersey as long as he can.
Roche escaped with an elite group in the hilly Calpe finale. The group included eventual stage winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma). Quintana jumped away for the victory but Roche paid close attention to Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First) who was only two seconds behind him in the overall.
"I'm very happy. I don't have the words," Roche said, wearing his second Grand Tour leader's jersey after wearing red at the 2013 Vuelta.
"This morning it wasn't on the table. It was only in the final 20km that I thought about it. I was thinking more about the stage victory. One came with the other. Nairo jumped at the right moment so I am very happy to have saved the jersey."
The 35-year-old Irishman has already won stages in the 2013 and 2015 editions of the Vuelta a España and helped Chris Froome and Alberto Contador win Grand Tours.
"I've won twice in the Vuelta, and I would have liked another, but I wouldn't change anything because I will be happy with this jersey. I will defend it for as long as I can," Roche said.
"Last time I had the jersey for just one day. I hope to have it more this time around."
Sunweb sports director Luke Roberts says that with the coming sprint days, Roche could keep the lead perhaps through stage five.
The team has Wilco Kelderman fighting for the overall classification, having finished fourth behind overall winner Chris Froome (Ineos) in 2017.
"I don't know the favourite, but we are going to try. We have Wilco and we will support him," Roche added. Kelderman placed in the group at 37 seconds back today, also containing Miguel Ángel López as he forfeited the leader's jersey his Astana squad had won him in the team time trial on stage one.
"We knew that this final was going to be complicated, it was very fast, very hot, it caused a lot of damage – I like this type of racing, that's why I love the Vuelta."
The Vuelta a España was not kind to Team Ineos, however, its leaders Wout Poels and Tao Geoghegan Hart finished 10 minutes back behind winner Quintana.
"It was a day of tactics," said Quintana. "There were only a few riders in the selection that was made and when I saw the moment I attacked. For the moment we are taking things slowly, the majority of the Vuelta is still to race."
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