Tim Merlier took his and Alpecin-Fenix's first Grand Tour stage win on stage two of the Giro d'Italia.
The Belgian outsprinted Giacomo Nizzolo (Qhubeka-Assos), the Italian having to settle for second, Viviani third, while Jumbo-Visma's Dylan Groenewegen managed fourth in his return to racing after suspension.
UAE Team Emirates' had been trying to deliver Fernando Gaviria to the front but the Colombian found himself put into the barriers by his own team-mate, just about staying upright.
Lotto-Soudal's pre-stage favourite Caleb Ewan failed to feature in the finale, finishing tenth.
Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) retained his maglia rosa, adding three extra bonus seconds to his lead during the stage.
Remo Evenepoel moved up three places to fourth after sprinting for the two remaining bonus seconds behind Ganna.
How it happened
The first proper stage of the race was a flat day for the sprinters. Before the start line Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan said he expected Jumbo-Visma’s Dylan Groenewegen to be in amongst it straight away after his suspension, while Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) looked forward to his first day out in the bunch since his injury, having confirmed his form was intact after placing seven in the opening time trial.
A minute’s silence started the day in memory of Wouter Weylandt, the Belgian who died while racing the Giro 10 years ago today.
Three riders soon set off up the road in the day's break, Filippo Tagliani (Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec), Umberto Marengo (Bardiani-CSF-Faizané) and Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa).
Soon the gap had yawned out to nearly four minutes, the story of the day so far being Sam Bennett’s expected departure from Deceuninck - Quick-Step at the end of the season, Patrick Lefevere dropping grenades left, right and centre to keep everyone entertained as the peloton rolled out of Stupinigi and towards Novara. Giacomo Nizzolo also provided some early interest, having had his Covid-free certification emblazoned onto the top of his helmet.
Lotto Soudal, Alpecin-Fenix and Jumbo-Visma soon helped out Ineos with duties on the front of the peloton, the British squad obliged to with Filippo Ganna in the maglia rosa.
With 100km remaining the breakaway trio’s gap was down to 2-40, and the only categorised climb of the day at Montechiari d'Asti coming up, the first rider at the top taking the first KOM jersey on offer this race.
Albanese was the first to make a dash for the line and Tagliani couldn’t come around him, giving EOLO-Kometa their first Giro d’Italia classification jersey.
Under 80km and the gap was down to below two minutes. Soon Albanese had a mechanical issue and was forced to stop, eventually drifting back towards the peloton, his job more than done for the day.
The peloton then relaxed and allowed the gap to go out a little, riders from various teams chatting and catching up, before the gap began to come back down again as they approached the final 50km.
Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè’s Davide Gabburo then hit the deck, waking up those napping in front of the TV at home, as Tagliani led Marengo over the first intermediate sprint containing points (the latter offering up bonus seconds), before UAE Team Emirates’ Fernando Gaviria led the likes of Peter Sagan and Elia Viviani over when the peloton arrived soon after.
20km later at the next sprint the break were caught just in time as Deceuninck - Quick-Step moved forward but Filippo Ganna sprinted ahead to add three seconds to his GC lead, Remco Evenepoel over the line second to take two, leapfrogging team-mate João Almeida in the overall standings.
Inside the final 10km and the pace finally picked up after a slow day, teams beginning to organise themselves before the bunch sprint, Luis Leon Sanchez putting a hand on an Alpecin-Fenix rider to stop himself getting squashed.
Ineos were still present at the front inside the last 5km, keeping Ganna safe, as Bora-Hansgrohe and Cofidis began to move Sagan and Viviani up, 66km/h the speed.
Groenewegen was the next to be moved up by Edoardo Affini and David Dekker for Jumbo-Visma with 2km to go, before Ganna started to push on the front, Bernal on his wheel.
After a slight downhill section came a couple of narrow, technical twists, Merlier finding himself on the front and opening his effort, with no-one else able to come around him, as Gaviria was hampered by his own team-mate, the Colombian checking his arm for grazes after colliding with the barriers.
2021 Giro d'Italia, stage two: Stupinigi to Navara (179km)
1. Tim Merlier (Bel) Alpecin-Fenix, in 4-21-09
2. Giacomo Nizzolo (Ita) Qhubeka-Assos, at same time
3. Elia Viviani (Ita) Cofidis
4. Dylan Groenewegen (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
6. Matteo Moschetti (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
7. Filippo Fiorelli (Ita) Bardiani-CSF-Faizanè
8. Lawrence Naesen (Bel) Ag2r Citroën
9. Davide Cimolai (Ita) Israel Start-Up Nation
10. Caleb Ewan (Aus) Lotto-Soudal, all at same time
General classification after stage two
1. Filippo Ganna (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers, in 4-29-53
2. Edoardo Affini (Ita) Jumbo-Visma, at 13s
3. Tobias Foss (Nor) Jumbo-Visma, 16s
4. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 20s
5. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck-Quick-Step , at same time
6. Rémi Cavagna (Fra) Deceuninck-Quick-Step, at 21s
7. Jos Van Emden (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
8. Max Walscheid (Ger) Qhubeka-Assos, at 22s
9. Matthias Brändle (Aut) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 25s
10. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Ineos Grenadiers, at 26s
Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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