Kirchen surprises all and captures win

High Road's Kim Kirchen won the second stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco in Erandio (Bizkaia). On a day marked by five mountains, starting with the Alto de Ixua (category one), the 29 year-old Kirchen won a final mass sprint ahead of the World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step). As in the first stage, Spaniard David Herrero (Karpin Galicia) finished third.

Alberto Contador (Astana), virtually lost his GC lead to compatriot Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel Euskadi) out on the road, but thanks to the work of his team, he remained in yellow at the end of the day with a five-second margin on Ezequiel Mosquera (Karpin Galicia).

A breakaway group was caught by the peloton, including Kirchen, with only nine kilometers before the finish of the 153km stage in Erandio. "The team did a great work," said Kirchen after the finish. "The last kilometers were quite dangerous, and so, I tried to be among the first ones [in the group]. Leaving the last roundabout, I already was in the leading position, but as it was still too far to the finish. I just slowed a bit down to be able to attack in the last meters."

José Ángel Gómez Marchante (Saunier Duval), at the moment 17th in the GC, said that "until the last day, the Vuelta is not decided. Everything could happen. Normally, the time trial in Orio should decide this race, but the weather is crazy and so we will see. Our objective is winning, even more as this is a home race and as we have six riders amongst the best 25 in the overall classification."

The leader, Alberto Contador, was tired at the finish "Another difficult day…," he said, "the team had to work from the beginning on and they did a great job, even if the rain complicated all. I attacked myself because I wanted to show that I am able to win this race. Tomorrow we will face another large and hard stage, because everybody will try to escape, but I hope that my team-mates will relax, and that they will be able to work as fantasticly as they did today."

How it unfolded

Yesterday's start and finish city, the small town of Legazpi (Gipuzkoa) welcomed the remaining 150 riders onto their market square, and they did it with cordial applause. The warm and sunny weather drew the public to watch the race starting 1:15 pm and heading out for 153 kilometers.

Björn Schröder (Milram) launched the first attack of the day, but the peloton was not willing to let him go. Only seven kilometers later, Spaniards Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne), José Luis Arrieta (Ag2r), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel Euskadi) and the Swiss Michael Albasini (Liquigas), who finished second on Saturday's Gran Premio Miguel Indurain made a break that stuck.

The first difficulty of the day was at the same time the hardest: the Alto de Ixua, with its 4.2 kilometers length and average ascent of 9.76 %. The Basque Landaluze was the first to the summit, where many spectators saw him in front of Horrach, Arrieta and Albasini. Fifth was Rubén Lobato (Saunier Duval), who was able to gain a small gap on the peloton, where Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel Euskadi) attacked successfully to save his mountain jersey.

Just after the peloton had reached the summit of the Alto de Ixua, it began to rain, and from then on, sunshine and rain took turns.

Landaluze won all of the mountain classifications, so that he ended up second in this classification, three points behind his team-mate Martínez. The break never got more than three minutes and 43 seconds, but when the Astana and Quick Step teams began to work, the quartet's lead melted quickly.

At the first passage by the finish line in Erandio, he was only at one minute and eight seconds, and so, Albasini decided to try his luck. He attacked his breakaway mates and reached a maximal advance of 33 seconds. Finally, he was not able to stand the pace of the chasing peloton and he gave up.

One kilometer before the finish line, some riders crashed due to the rain that made the streets slippery. After the final roundabout, the teams prepared for the sprint, in which Kirchen attained victory.

Wednesday's third stage will lead the peloton from the coast to the northern frontier of the Basque country: 195 kilometers from Erandio (Bizkaia) to Viana (Navarra). The day features four mountains, two each in the second and third categories.

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