Stage 2 - April 4: Irún - Segura, 155 Km

46th Vuelta al Pais Vasco - PT

Spain, April 3-8, 2006

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Sanchez takes command

In the difficult second stage of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, local rider Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) did the double and won both the stage and the leader's jersey. Sanchez beat Alberto Contador (Liberty Seguros) and (at a two second gap) race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) in a 17 rider sprint. The time gap between second and third and the lack of bonuses meant that Sanchez, Contador and Valverde are also the top three on GC.

How it unfolded

Stage 2 was run over a very lumpy 155 km course between Irún and Segura, with 12 categorised climbs of varying difficulty. he stage started shortly after 1 pm with 175 riders enjoying the warm, 24 degree conditions. The climbing began almost immediately, with the Cat. 3 Alto de Gurutze coming after just 6 km. Unai Etxebarria was first over to bolster his lead in the mountains classification, with Remmert Wielinga (Quick.Step) and Isidro Nozal (Liberty Seguros) next. The attacking began and after 24 km, Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner) decided to abandon.

After approximately 35 km, a group of six riders got a gap: Mads Kaggestad (Credit Agricole), Yoann Le Boulanger (Bouygues), Iñaki Isasi (Euskaltel), Jose Luis Arrieta and Hubert Dupont (AG2R), and Israel Nuñez (Kaiku). The group built up a lead of 1'10 after 41 km, and continued to press their advantage over the Alto de Leaburu, where Nuñez was first ahead of Isasi and Dupont. Caisse d'Epargne was setting tempo in the peloton, and the first hour was covered at 42.4 km/h.

After 58 km, the six had 3'49 over the bunch as they continued to tackle the cat. 2 and cat. 3 climbs that marked this stage. On the steep Alto de Lazkomendi (Cat. 2, km 79), Kaggestad couldn't follow any more and the Norwegian was forced to ride solo off the back of the other five. Dupont was first over the top, ahead of Nuñez and Arrieta.

The second hour saw 38 km covered as the gap hovered just above the three minute mark. Juan José Oroz (Kaiku) became the first Basque rider to abandon after 70 km, then Addy Engels (Quick.Step) after 82 km and Oliver Zaugg (Saunier Duval) at km 95. Kaggestad was absorbed back into the peloton at the top of the Alto de Liernia (km 94), where the rest of the break was still 3'06 in front.

The Alto de Minas saw the pace pick up a little behind the break, and the gap start to come down. At the summit of the of the cat. 2 climb, it was down to 2'22. Dupont was again first, and had been collected a lot of the points. Over the Alto de Liernia again, and Le Boulanger was dropped from the break, leaving four in front. on the tough Alto de Aztiria (km 124), Caisse d'Epargne put the pressure on and cut the gap back to 1'13, before Saunier Duval's Angel Gomez Marchante tried a solo counter attack, passing the breakaway and crossing the summit first. He gained a maximum lead of half a minute before he was recaptured at km 136.

Saunier Duval tried again to break the rhythm of Caisse d'Epargne in the Alto de Gabiria, but it was Xavier Tondo (Relax-Gam) to the top first ahead of Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier) and Igor Anton (Euskaltel). Then it was onto the final climb of the day, the Alto de Minas (km 148), where the attacks increased in intensity. Bertagnolli (Cofidis), Osa and Contador (Liberty) managed to gain an advantage over the Saunier Duval led favourites' group, with 17 seconds at the top. But it wasn't to last, and they were neutralised.

On the run into the finish, Contador and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) got a small gap over the rest of the survivors, holding it to the end where Sanchez was faster than Contador. Valverde won the sprint for third at 2 seconds, but it wasn't enough to keep the lead.

Tomorrow's third stage is between Segura and Lerín over 170 km, and despite a cat. 1 climb near the start, it should be suitable for the sprinters.

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