Welcome to our live coverage of the finish of stage two from the 2012 Vuelta a Espana. After yesterday's opening team trial, the riders hit the roads individually for the first time today in this rolling 180km stage from Pamplona to Viana.
135km remaining from 181km
We join the race with just under 135km left to go. Three riders have attacked and are almost four and a half minutes clear of the main peloton.
The three riders are Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), Mikhail Ignatyev (Katusha) and Javier Chacon (Andalucia).
Today's rolling 180km stage is a fairly gentle introduction to the 2012 Vuelta, which has been described by Rabobank rider Robert Gesink as the toughest parcours he's ever seen. You can read Gesink's comments right here.
The odds are stacked in favour of a sprint finish today, and there is only one categorised climb on the stage - it's the category 3 Alto de la Chapela, which comes 75km in.
The current race leader after one stage is Jonathan Castroviejo. The wears the red jersey as race leader due to his team, Movistar, winning yesterday's opening team time trial in Pamplona. He was the first Movistar rider across the line. You can find out how Movistar did it right here, but here's the top ten from yesterday:
TOP TEN TEAMS - STAGE ONE TTT
1 Movistar Team 0:18:51
2 Omega Pharma - Quickstep 0:00:10
3 Rabobank Cycling Team
4 BMC Racing Team
5 SKY Procycling 0:00:12
6 Lotto Belisol Team
7 Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:14
8 Katusha Team 0:00:15
9 Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:28
10 Orica Greenedge 0:00:33
125km remaining from 181km
And the leaders have just gone through the first intermediate sprint of the 2012 Vuelta.
RESULTS - FIRST INTERMEDIATE SPRINT
1. Ignatiev (Katusha)
2. Chacon (Andalucia)
3. Aramendia (Caja Rural)
The gap is now over five minutes following that scramble for sprint points...
Temperatures are searingly hot here this afternoon in northern Spain. My iPhone is telling me it's 41 degrees Celsius...
Away from the Vuelta for a moment, and Bradley Wiggins has announced that he will be returning to racing in next month's Tour of Britain. It will be the Tour de France winner's first race since clinching Olympic gold in the time trial in London earlier this month. Read what he has to say right here.
115km remaining from 181km
The three leaders are closing in on the categorised climb. They'll be at the foot of it in the next few kilometres.
With climbing points only available on this climb, whoever gets to the summit first will take the polka dot jersey this evening. The three leaders have started their ascent.
Let's take a closer look at these three escapees. Ignatyev is probably the best known of the trio, though his finest hour to date came on the track at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where he won gold in the points race as a 19 year old.
Chacon is making his grand tour debut at this year's Vuelta but he has stage wins to his name at the Tour of Venezuela and the Tour of Azerbaijan.
At the age of 25, Aramendia is the youngest rider of the trio. He had never won a professional race and is making his debut in the Vuelta. He only previous grand tour experience came at the 2011 Giro d'Italia. He joined Caja Rural for the 2012 season having previously been at Euskaltel-Euskadi.
RESULT - ALTO DE LA CHAPELA CLIMB
1 Aramendia (Caja Rural)
2 Chacon (Andalucia)
3 Ignatyev (Katusha)
105km remaining from 181km
So the leaders are now descending towards the feeding station. Ignatyev picked up a puncture but has quickly caught up the other two riders. The gap remains around the five-minute mark.
There was some controversy at yesterday's team time trial. Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Tony Martin and Zdenek Stybar were led the wrong way by a police motorcycle and neither of them were particularly happy about it. Read what happened right here.
CORRECTION: The race organisers have spotted an infringement on the climb and relegated Aramendia. Chacon is thus promoted to first place and will wear the polka dot jersey.
We are now two hours in and the leaders have seen their gap cut down to under four minutes. Average speed is fairly pedestrian at just over 38km/h. Not really surprising in this heat though.
96km remaining from 181km
They're through the feeding zone and there's less than 100km to go now...
So who would be the main contenders if we get the much-predicted sprint finish today? Ben Swift is Sky's number one here in that department and must have a good chance. John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano), Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Matti Breschel (Rabobank) are the obvious alternatives.
Of course the big story here is the return to grand tour racing of local favourite Alberto Contador. His Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team finished seventh in the team time trial yesterday and the Spaniard declared himself happy with the results. Read exactly what he had to say right here.
90km remaining from 181km
More problems for Ignatyev. He needs two new bikes in quick succession after mechanical failures...
We're now past the haflway point in terms of distance. I'd expect the second half of this stage to be significantly faster than the first half though.
Lead has stayed pretty constant over the last half hour. At the head of the chasing peloton, race leader Castroviejo has been doing lots of the work. He's clearly relishing his time in the red jersey.
Castroviejo was absolutely delighted in Pamplona yesterday when he put on the red jersey. He was born just a 90-minute drive away from the Basque city. Read what the 25-year-old had to say after the race yesterday right here.
79km remaining from 181km
Lead is being eaten up ever so slightly. Peloton has shaved ten seconds off it in the last couple of kilometres.
And it's continuing to fall - another 20 seconds have been taken out. Are the leaders tiring in this heat? It's still 37 degrees Celsius here and they have been in front on their own for almost two hours.
Movistar are still doing most of the work in the peloton to bring this gap down. It's working well at the moment.
Contador and Juan Jose Cobo are having a chat in the peloton. Both are former winners of the race, and Cobo is the defending champion. Wonder what they're discussing? The heat? What they're having for dinner?
70km remaining from 181km
And the leaders have raised the pace again slightly. Gap is back up now to almost three-and-a-half minutes.
In addition to the problems that beset Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Garmin-Sharp also suffered on the opening day at the team trial. Sporting director Allan Peiper spoke to Cyclingnews this morning about their crash, so find out what he had to say right here.
Hearing reports of some rain at the finish in Viana - it's probably about 90 minutes until the riders get there. Will it stop before then?
62km remaining from 181km
Gap is coming down again, but only very slightly...
And now the pace is really increasing in behind the leaders. The gap has suddenly dropped to under three minutes and is falling rapidly...
And it's now under two-and-a-half minutes. Movistar are working like Trojans here...
50km remaining from 181km
The leaders have now entered the last 50km but the pack are closing with every turn of their wheels. They are now just two minutes back...
Chris Froome (Sky) was in confident mood when we caught up with him at the start of today's stage in Pamplona this morning. He declared himself happy with Sky's performance in the team time trial and looked ahead to tomorrow's first mountain stage. Read the interview right here.
There's one more intermediate sprint to come in this race. The leaders are still about 20km from that point and it's looking increasingly likely that they will be caught before then.
Well there's a chance that I spoke too soon. The leaders have pushed the lead back up now. Perhaps they were taking a breather.
In terms of sprints, the rules are slightly different here at the Vuelta. Each stage has two sprints, and points are awarded on a 6-4-2 basis on each stage.
Four of the past five winners of the Vuelta are racing this year. Cobo (2011), Valverde (2009), Contador (2008) and Menchov (2007). Menchov also won the race in 2005. The only absentee in terms of recent winners from the last five years is Vincenzo Nibali.
Gap is now back up to 2:45...
35km remaining from 181km
It's the turn of Pablo Lastras to do the main bit of the work at the front of the main peloton. Things starting to hot up now. Pace increasing as we enter the final 35km of the race. But the leaders are holding their own...
And the riders have hit some rain for the first time today...
And the riders have hit some rain for the first time today...
There may be a bit of rain but it's still in the high 30s Celsius here. As a result the rules on fluids in the last 30km have been relaxed...
Cachon seems to be struggling a little bit. Will he be the first of the leading trio to crack?
Gap is coming down towards the two-minute mark again...
The rain hasn't really stuck here. Nothing that will cause too much inconvenience. Movistar, once again, are pushing on the front of the peloton. The red jerseys of Katusha are there too.
25km remaining from 181km
Cachon has definitely been dropped now. Just Aramendia and Ignatyev in front.
But they are now just under one minute ahead. Gap is tumbling rapidly again...
Peloton well placed now. The teams will be sorting themselves out and formulating plans for the likely sprint finish.
Plenty of cloud cover now. A welcome relief for the riders...
20km remaining from 181km
These closing few kilometres are much more undulating than they appear. Still doubtful that anyone will attack and make it stick though.
The leaders are just going past the finish line. They will now head out on to a loop before returning to the finish proper.
The gap between the leading duo and the chasing peloton is 39 seconds...
15km remaining from 181km
Last 15km now. Rumbles of thunder in the sky...
Gap now down to 27 seconds. The leaders are only about 300 metres up the road now.
There's a very tricky roundabout with about 700 metres to go before the finish line. Positioning will be key if there's a bunch sprint. Let's keep our fingers crossed that there's no crashes...
And there we go - the leaders have been swallowed up with 12km left to go. Brave effort in this heat by those two. They've been on the front for well over three hours.
10km remaining from 181km
This is set to be an exciting final 10km. Lots of people in with chances. The final kilometre is slightly uphill so represents a different kind of test...
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Liquigas-Cannondale are at the front here, injecting some pace...
5km remaining from 181km
Quick attack here from a Vacansoleil rider. It's Sergey Lagutin...
He's got an eleven second lead. Surely he can't hold on though...
And they've caught him with 4km left...
AG2R-LaMondiale and Orica-GreenEdge attack now...
Long straight now for the next 2km before this roundabout...
Pace is furious
GreenEdge and Quick Step looking strong and organised...
RadioShack hit the front. Lotto-Belisol there too, and Lampre. 1km to go. Roundabout coming fast...
Going to be tight here...
Winning time: 4:38:40
That was tight and dramatic. First it looked like Ben Swift had it after he hit the front with 200m to go. Then Allan Davies came through for Orica-GreenEdge, who were well organised for the final kick. But Degenkolb would not be denied and swooped in the final 10 metres...
TOP THREE FINISHERS
1 John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano)
2 Allan Davies (Orica-GreenEdge)
3 Ben Swift (Sky Procycling)
TOP THREE FINISHERS
1 John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano)
2 Allan Davis (Orica-GreenEdge)
3 Ben Swift (Sky Procycling)
OFFICIAL TOP TEN - STAGE TWO
1 John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano 4:38:40
2 Allan Davis (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge 0:00:00
3 Ben Swift (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:00
4 Elia Viviani (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:00
5 Klaas Lodewyck (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:00
6 Vicente Reynes Mimo (Spa) Lotto Belisol Team 0:00:00
7 Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:00
8 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:00:00
9 Manuel Antonio Leal Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural 0:00:00
10 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan 0:00:00
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 2
1 Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spa) Movistar Team 4:57:31
2 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team 0:00:00
3 Javier Moreno Bazan (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:00
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:00
5 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:00
6 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:04
7 Dennis Van Winden (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:10
8 Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:10
9 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:10
10 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
That's all from northern Spain as we say goodbye to stage two of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana.
It may have been flat but the temperatures made it a real war of attrition in the end. John Degenkolb once again proved that on his day is in the very top drawer of sprinters and his daring final move in the last 20 metres to deny Davis and Swift will live long in the memory.
There'll be a full report, photos and results right here when we get them through.
And don't forget to join us tomorrow for stage three, where there will be a summit finish for the first time.
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