Team Sky once again came out of the crosswind chaos that is this year's Paris-Nice – just two stages old – as the team most likely to have the overall winner in its ranks come next weekend, having kept the GC hopes of two of their leaders alive on a day when many other contenders' chances faded.
Michal Kwiatkowski – now second overall, 12 seconds down on race leader Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto-Jumbo) – and Egan Bernal, in fifth place, seven seconds further down, owe much to the almost indefatigable Luke Rowe, who created the final, decisive split of eight riders with around six kilometres of the 163.5km second stage to go, before the Welshman peeled off, having done his job, with a little over a kilometre left.
While Groenewegen took his second stage win in as many days, Rowe rolled in, alone, having lost just 38 seconds in the closing kilometre, and now sits 36th overall, almost a minute down on the race's Dutch leader. Not that Rowe will be giving his position any thought; the 29-year-old will now turn his attention to stage 3 on Tuesday, in the hope of doing some more damage on the 200km stage from Cepoy to Moulins.
Impressive as the three Team Sky riders were, with the same trio having kept themselves in contention on the equally tough and windy opening stage on Sunday, what was all-the-more impressive was that Kwiatkowski had needed to battle back from a puncture with just over 40km to go.
"Never give up," the Polish road race champion tweeted, in hashtag form, after the stage, adding that he'd recorded an average speed of 51.2kph.
As for Bernal, the diminutive Colombian climber was full of praise for his teammates for having taught him how to stay in the mix among much bigger and more powerful riders as the crosswinds splintered the race.
"It was a nice stage, but also a really hard one," Bernal said on his team's website.
"It was windy all day, and it was quite stressful in the lead group, too. We started with Ivan [Sosa], Sebastian [Henao], Tao [Geoghegan Hart] and Jhonatan [Narvaez], and they put us in the front from kilometre zero, which was good.
"With Kwiato and Luke, it's easy to be in the front as the peloton has a lot of respect for them, so it was easy for me to follow them. They told me all day, 'Left, right, over here, stay focused here, we need to move over to the right or the front,'" he continued. "When you have people telling you what you need to do, it's much easier."
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