Deceuninck-QuickStep's Julian Alaphilippe wasted no time in getting back to winning ways on stage 2 of the Tour of the Basque Country on Tuesday, taking victory on the race's first road stage, having finished fourth on Monday's opening time trial stage.
The stage victory in Gorraiz moved Alaphilippe up to second overall, five seconds behind race leader and winner of the first stage, Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), although the 26-year-old Frenchman was keen to stress that targeting the overall was never a goal for this week.
"The finish suited me, and I was well-positioned going into the closing kilometre," Alaphilippe said on the Deceuninck-QuickStep website.
"With 200 metres left, I saw an opening and kicked out, and that proved to be the right moment. I'm really glad that I could take the victory. My goal at the start of this week was to take a stage win, and now that I have done that, I'll just take it day-by-day and see how things go, especially as the general classification isn't an objective," he said.
Alaphilippe won Milan-San Remo on March 23, but has enjoyed a break of more than two weeks since then. The time off has clearly helped to motivate him more than ever, with his stage win in the Basque Country taking his win-tally so far this year to eight, with his other victories in 2019 having included Strade Bianche and two stage wins at Tirreno-Adriatico.
His stage win on Tuesday wasn't without incident, however, as a mechanical with around 30km of the 149.5km left to go saw Alaphilippe making a bike change and needing teammates Mikkel Honoré and Rémi Cavagna to pace him back to the front of the race, which was slowly whittled down to around 50 riders at the head of affairs as the stage's five gravel sectors took their toll.
"I didn't know how things would go after the break I took following my Milano-San Remo victory," Alaphilippe admitted, "but the legs felt good and I was very motivated to get the win.
"The day was a very fast and nervous one, despite being short, due to the presence of those unpaved segments," he continued. "But we managed the situation perfectly, and I could rely on a strong squad, which kept me near the front at all times, so a big thank you goes to them for their valuable help."
The six-day stage race continues on Wednesday with a hilly 191.4km third stage between Sarriguren and Estibaliz, which includes both a category 2 and a category 3 climb, and another uphill finish – which could again suit Alaphilippe.