Live coverage of stage 2 of the Vuelta a Espana, 160.8 kilometres from Ourense to Baiona.
After Saturday evening’s opening team time trial, the Vuelta a España remains in Galicia to tackle stage 2, which takes the peloton from Ourense to Baiona by way of the category 3 Alto de Fontefria. 8.2km at an average gradient of little more than 3%, the Fontefria is nothing like the behemoth it seems in the stage profile and by rights this ought to be a bunch finish – but, given the dearth of fast men in this Vuelta, will any team commit to pegging back the break?
Note that when the Vuelta route was announced in January, the climb was labelled as the Montouto and given category 2 status, but the organisation has since downgraded it to category 3.
The peloton will roll out at 13.40 local time, with the depart reel slated for 13.45. Pete Kennaugh wears the red jersey of race leader after Team Sky's victory in the team time trial last night, and you can read the stage report here.
The general classification picture is as follows:
1 Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky 0:30:37
2 Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky
3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky
4 Leopold König (Cze) Team Sky
5 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
7 Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spa) Movistar Team
8 Rubén Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
10 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team
11 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:01
12 Damien Howson (Aus) Orica-BikeExchange 0:00:06
13 Magnus Cort (Den) Orica-BikeExchange
14 Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange
15 Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica-BikeExchange
16 Sam Bewley (NZl) Orica-BikeExchange
17 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-BikeExchange
18 Dylan Teuns (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:07
19 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
20 Danilo Wyss (Swi) BMC Racing Team
While Sky and Movistar (ergo Chris Froome and the Nairo Quintana-Alejandro Valverde tandem) broke even last night, it was a disappointing start for Alberto Contador. His Tinkoff team could only manage 9th place on the stage, and he begins his Vuelta with a 52-second deficit to his fellow overall contenders. "Being a minute down on the favourites is complicated..." Contador admitted afterwards.
The peloton ambles through the neutralised zone with red jersey Pete Kennaugh sitting towards the front. All 198 riders are present and correct in Ourense.
160km remaining from 160km
The flag drops and stage 2 of the Vuelta a Espana is officially underway. The day's stage takes the peloton westwards towards the Atlantic coast, and they face flat roads for the first 60 kilometres or so before encountering some lumpier terrain midway through the afternoon.
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After a flurry of early attacks, Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon18) and Laurent Pichon (FDJ) forge clear after five kilometres, though their advantage over the peloton is just 12 seconds for the time being.
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Benedetti and Pichon stretch their lead out to 45 seconds over the peloton, while, in between, Brian Naulleau (Direct Energie) gives chase alone.
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It seems that the day's early break has established itself. Nauleau bridges across to the Pichon and Benedetti, while the peloton relents behind. The three leaders hold an advantage of 1:30 after 10 kilometres of racing.
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Benedetti is the highest place of the three leaders on general classification. The began the day 57 seconds off Kennaugh's red jersey, and is overall leader on the road as the break stretches its lead towards the two-minute mark.
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Team Sky are happy to let this break forge clear but reluctant to allow them too much rope. The men in black sit on the front of the peloton, 2:15 down on the three leaders.
Pete Kennaugh endured the disappointment of missing out on the Tour de France through injury and then withdrew from the British Olympic selection in favour of Steve Cummings, but he showed flashes of form at the Vuelta a Burgos and now wears the leader's jersey in a Grand Tour for the first time. "At Burgos I knew was good, I’ve just been putting a bit more pressure on myself. Usually I try to take the pressure off, but I wanted to come into this race a bit more confident and take it on a bit," Kennaugh said last night. You can read Alasdair Fotheringham's full story here.
Away from the Vuelta a Espana, the Olympic Games draw to a close today, and many eyes in Rio will be on Peter Sagan, as he tackles the men's cross country race, having opted to forgo the road race. The Slovakian has been checking out the course in recent days as this gallery shows.
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Sagan's mountain bike race, incidentally, seems to be one of the few Olympic events that has whetted Marc Madiot's appetite, but the FDJ manager will surely keep at least one eye on the Vuelta, where his rider Laurent Pichon is in a three-man break which has now stretched its lead out to three minutes.
Sky manager Dave Brailsford was pleased with his team's victory in yesterday's opening stage, though he noted afterwards that Vuelta form is rather less predictable than the Tour de France form. He would know. Brailsford was, after all, ready to offload Chris Froome from Team Sky's books at the outset of the 2011 Vuelta...
“It’s a different thing, you’ve got to have a different strategy in mind. Normally, you’re going to have to grind it out for the first week or so and then you’ll know whether you’re going to lift or drop in the second part," Brailsford said of the Vuelta. "It’s mentally a lot tougher."
125km remaining from 160km
The three leaders have nudged their advantage out a little further. Benedetti, Pichon and Nauleau have a buffer of 3:40 over the main peloton.
Alberto Contador is placed near the front of the peloton, with Tinkoff bodyguard Daniele Bennati (soon to be at Movistar) by his side. Before the start in Ourense, Contador revisited his team’s disappointing outing on Saturday night. “We lost more time than we expected. 52 seconds is quite a lot. Movistar and Froome took some time on me and I have to take that back somewhere,” he said. “But if we look back to Tour, I started with a crash there, so that was much worse. Our rivals had good days and we had a bad one. Movistar and Sky were able to make the difference yesterday and now they’ll have to take responsibility for controlling the race.”
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The break reaches Ribadavia, and their advantage has yawned out to 4:20. They covered a little under 40 kilometres in the first hour, incidentally.
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Trek-Segafredo and Giant-Alpecin joined the pace-setting efforts at the head of the peloton a few kilometres back, and their efforts have helped to peg the escapees' lead back just over two minutes.
Tom Stamsnijder sits on the front of the peloton and sets a steady tempo in support of Giant-Alpecin's designated fast man, Nikias Arndt. There aren't many by way of top sprinters in this race, but Giant-Alpecin have plenty of riders with lead-out train experience in their line-up here.
106km remaining from 160km
The escapees, meanwhile, are approaching the base of the category 3 Alto de Fontefria, though in truth, they have already been climbing a shallow gradient for some time.
The Tour de l'Avenir is taking place this week, and Pierre Carrey will be on hand to provide a daily portrait from the race. For the first installment in the series, he spoke to Tao Geoghegan Hart about his decision to sign for Team Sky in 2017.
102km remaining from 160km
Giant-Alpecin's GC hope Warren Barguil is sitting at the back as the peloton continues on this uncategorised section of climbing, though the Breton does not appear to be under any great duress.
With the short, sharp summit finish atop the Mirador de Ézaro to come tomorrow - not to mention a rather lumpy preamble along the coast - the overall contenders will surely be looking to save themselves this afternoon. The pace thus far has been kind in that regard.
The peloton crosses the river Miño, with a deficit of 2:32 on the three leaders. Trek and Giant will be happy to keep the deficit tabbed like this for the time being. There won't be any particular urgency about the effort for the next hour or so.
99km remaining from 160km
Sky take over a gain on the front of the peloton, though with no discernible rise in pace. Contador is safely ensconced amid a phalanx of Tinkoff jerseys, a few rows back from the front.
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The race is still five miles or so from the Fontefria proper, but as the gradient begins to bite slightly on the approach to the categorised climb, the break's lead stretches out to three minutes.
As ever, there are a number of Grand Tour debutants in the field at this Vuelta a Espana, including Hugh Carthy (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), who has enjoyed such an impressive 2016 campaign. The Briton lost some ground in yesterday's team time trial, but will hope to sparkle on the more rugged terrain to follow. Our man in Galicia Alasdair Fotheringham spoke to Carthy this weekend, and learned that the Preston native is playing it by ear in Spain.
89km remaining from 160km
Bendetti, Pichon and Nauleau reach Cañiza at the base of the day's lone categorised climb, the Alto de Fontefria, with a lead of 2:54 over the peloton. The category 3 ascent is 8.2 kilometres in length at an average gradient of 3.2%.
84km remaining from 160km
Our trio of leaders continue to collaborate smoothly on the climb, while behind, the peloton has yet to stir into life. That may all change, of course, once the race hits the coast, and a melange of teams go about trying to set up a bunch sprint for a cast of sprinters who, without putting too fine a point on it, don't tend to win a lot of bunch sprints.
83km remaining from 160km
And wouldn't you know it, the unity of the leading trio abruptly fragments. Nauleau takes a flyer in a bid to forge clear for the king of the mountains points, but he is swiftly pegged back by Benedetti. Pichon chugs his way back up to them shortly afterwards.
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The break's advantage, meanwhile, has dropped to 2:15 as they engage in a game of cat and mouse ahead of the summit of the climb. Benedetti and Nauleau weave across the road while Pichon maintains a watching brief.
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Laurent Pichon (FDJ) wins the sprint atop the Alto de Fontefria, edging out Benedetti. The Frenchman will wear the polka dot jersey tomorrow as a result.
Sky lead the bunch over the top of the climb, 2:35 on the three escapees. A long drop of 20 kilometres or so to Ponteareas follows.
“A little bit of race history,” writes Alasdair Fotheringham in a dispatch from Galicia. “Today the Vuelta goes through Ponteaereas, birthplace of Alvaro Pino and the Rodriguez brothers, Delio and Emilio. The former needs no introduction, the latter two were winners of Vuelta in 1945 and 1950. There were five Rodriguez brothers in the professional peloton, with Delio and Emilio joined by. Manuel, who was second overall in 1950 behind brother Emilio, Pastor and José. All bar José rode the Vuelta, and Delio, Pastor and Emilio all rode the Vuelta together in 1945 and 1946. Delio, the most famous, holds the record for stage wins in the Vuelta (39) and was also first Galician to ride the Vuelta, back in 1936.”
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The break's lead tumbles to 1:30 on this long, sweeping descent, as Gatis Smukulis (Astana) ups the pace at the head of the peloton.
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Shades of a slow bicycle race here. Seeing that their lead has shrunk to 45 seconds, the three escapees seemed prepared to raise the white flag. On learning that the leaders had sat up, meanwhile, the peloton spread across the road and the pace has dropped accordingly.
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And the break's lead duly nudges back out to one minute. Benedetti remains - just about - the race leader on the road, though red jersey Pete Kennaugh will not be concerned.
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Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) is among the contenders for stage honours this afternoon, and this is what the Belgian had to say at the start. "It could be windy near the finish because we’re by the sea," he said. "There could be echelons, but it might be a chaotic finish. The important thing is not to let too many riders get into the break."
The escapees negotiate the streets of Ponteareas with a lead of 1:20 over the main peloton, where Giant-Alpecin and Trek-Segafredo hold the reins but have yet to crack the whip.
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There has been a definite drop in intensity in the main peloton since they hit the bottom of that long descent, and their deficit to the break has yawned back out to almost two minutes.
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The peloton is tackling an unclassified climb and is content for now to amble along 2:15 behind the break, but we can expect the intensity to eventually ratchet upwards in the final hour of racing.
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Trek-Segafredo have been increasingly active on the front and they have sliced a clutch of seconds off the break's lead. 1:46 is now the gap. Their man for the sprint is Niccolo Bonifazio, a stage winner at the Tour of Poland last month. "I rode the Arctic Race to prepare for the Vuelta and I’m confident my teammates will ride well in the finale. I’ve prepared well and I’m hoping to get a result," Bonifazio told Eurosport at the start. "My condition is very good, so we’ll see what I can do."
The average speed after three hours, incidentally, was a shade under 36kph, and the pace has yet to wind upwards on this run-in to the finish in Baiona.
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Nauleau leads Pichon and Benedetti over another uncategorised climb. The break's gap drops to just under a minute as their efforts begin to tell. This stage has taken the Vuelta over some deceptively rugged terrain.
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Riders are spread across the road at the front end of the peloton. No one team wants to take up the pace-settng at this early juncture, nor does anyone want to peg back the three escapees quite this early.
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Philippe Gilbert (BMC) attacks from the peloton on the stiff uncategorised climb near Mos. The Belgian champion looks around for company but then decides to press on alone.
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Gilbert cruises across to the three leaders in the space of 700 metres or so, and immediately starts taking turns on the front. He adds some firepower to their effort but his presence up front has added some impetus to efforts in the main peloton, where Trek-Segafredo have upped the pace.
36km remaining from 160km
Gilbert, Pichon, Benedetti and Nauleau swoop down the descent but their lead over the peloton is a mere 19 seconds. Suddenly - and finally - this stage has sparked into life.
Gilbert and company are now descending towards Vigo, which conjures up memories of Alexander Mostovoi and the Celta Vigo team of the late 1990s. Indeed, this corner of Galicia has provided a home to Russian cyclists, too. Katusha's Vladimir Isaychev is a Vigo resident, and his teammate Vyacheslav Kuznetsov lived here briefly when he first joined the team. Neither man, however, is in the Katusha team at this Vuelta.
33km remaining from 160km
Gilbert is normally at the Vuelta looking to build form for the Worlds, but having already opted out of the trip to Doha, the Belgian champion is here with the simple aim of landing stage victories. He is being generous in his efforts here, but the quartet's advantage remains at 25 seconds as Trek-Segafredo lead the chase behind.
Isaychev made Vigo his home, of course, thanks indirectly to another of Celta Vigo's Russian stars, Vladimir Karpin. His property concern was sponsor of the Karpin-Galicia team in 2007 and 2008, when Isaychev was among the riders.
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Giant-Alpecin and Movistar are massing at the front of the peloton, which remains 25 seconds down on Gilbert and company.
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The twists, turns and traffic furniture of the outskirts of Vigo are helping the more nimble leading quartet stay clear of the peloton, but Gilbert, apart, their fatigue is surely beginning to take a toll.
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18 seconds the gap as Pichon takes a long turn on the front. The escapees are sticking gamely to their task, but they surely won't last too much longer at this rate.
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Gilbert et al carry a lead of 15 seconds into the final 20 kilometres. They'll hope at least to stay out in front until the intermediate sprint in 900 metres' time.
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Not surprisingly, Gilbert wins the sprint to snaffle the three bonus seconds on offer. The Belgian began the day, incidentally, just 7 seconds down on GC.
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Gilbert continues to force the issue at the head of the break, but their lead is down to just 8 seconds and their race is surely run.
Once Gilbert and the break are swept up, BMC's attention will turn to setting up Jempy Drucker for this most open of bunch finishes.
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Gilbert, Pichon, Benedetti and Nauleau are caught by the main peloton, where Orica-BikeExchange, Dimension Data and Sky are massed on the front. Gruppo compatto.
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There's another irregular and uncategorised clump of climbing to come in the finale, just before the race reaches Nigrán, ahead of a largely flat final 9-kilometre run to the line. There is still scope for the sprinters to be denied.
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We're not far from the Portuguese border, and there's little surprise to see Tiago Machado (Katusha) zip off the front on the climb. The Vila Nova de Famalicão native opens a small gap over the peloton.
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The gradient is a bit stiffer than the road book suggested, and Machado has opened a gap of 15 seconds over the peloton.
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Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) attacks and sets out in pursuit of Machado, and his move has sparked a reaction from a group of four riders.
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The Elissonde group is reeled in by the peloton. Machado ploughs on alone, but his lone effort won't last much longer.
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Tinkoff take over on the front of the peloton and Machado is swept up as the road flattens out once again.
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Tinkoff's pace-making is stringing out the peloton as its hits the coast road on the run-in to Baiona.
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Team Sky take over at the front, eager to keep Froome and Kennaugh out of trouble between now and the 3km to go banner.
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Giant-Alpecin gather en masse behind Sky, with Arndt's sprint in mind. BMC, Etixx-QuickStep, Dimension Data and Trek-Segafredo also have potential stage winners in their ranks, but there is no obvious favourite for stage honours.
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An Orica-BikeExchange delegation moves up with Magnus Cort in mind. There are ten bonus seconds on offer to the stage winner this afternoon.
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Lotto Soudal take over on the front of the bunch inside the final four kilometres, and lift the pace accordingly.
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A roundabout greets the peloton as they hit the 3km to go mark. Nathan Haas and Tyler Farrar are on hand for Dimension Data's Sbaragli.
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Haas rides on the front for Dimension Data. A Katusha rider hits the ground just behind him, but it seems that almost everyone has picked their way around him safely.
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Dimension Data are still in front with 2 kilometres remaining.
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Lotto Soudal lead into the final kilometre but no one team has taken matters in hand just yet.
Farrar puts in a huge stint up until the 600 metres to go mark.
Etixx-QuickStep ghost to the front late on in support of Gianni Meersman...
Meersman opens his sprint from distance...
Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) wins stage 2 of the Vuelta a Espana.
Meersman led into the gentle, final left-hand bend, and once he hit the front, the result was never in doubt.
Michael Schwarzmann (Bora-Argon 18) placed second on the stage, while Magnus Cort (Orica-BikeExchange) took third. Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) sprinted to fourth, ahead of Jonas Van Genechten (IAM).
Ryan Anderson (Direct Energie) crashed in that finishing sprint, but the Canadian is able to walk across the finish line and complete the stage.
Sergey Lagutin was the Katusha rider who fell earlier on the run-in, and he was able to remount and finish the stage.
1 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Etixx - Quick Step 04:16:39
2 Michael Schwarzmann (Ger) Bora-Argon 18 00:00:00
3 Magnus Cort Nielsen (Den) ORICA-BikeExchange 00:00:00
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky 00:00:00
5 Jonas van Genechten (Bel) IAM Cycling 00:00:00
6 Kristian Sbaragli (Ita) Dimension Data 00:00:00
7 Niccolo Bonifazio (Ita) Trek - Segafredo 00:00:00
8 Jhonatan Restrepo (Col) Team Katusha 00:00:00
9 Jean-Pierre Drucker (Lux) BMC Racing Team 00:00:00
10 Lorrenzo Manzin (Fra) FDJ 00:00:00
Michal Kwiatkowski's fourth place finish, meanwhile, has lifted him into the red jersey of overall leader, ahead of teammate Pete Kennaugh.
Kwiatkowski, Kennaugh, Froome, Quintana, Jose Joaquin Rojas and Valverde all finished in the main peloton, but as they are all locked on time, the red jersey was decided by their positions on today's stage, and so Kwiatkowski is being marshalled towards the podium.
Stage winner Gianni Meersman speaks behind the podium: “I’m really happy. The Vuelta is my big goal of the last part of the season. I trained so hard to be good here. I was really stressing but I told my wife to look at the television today because I felt good, this win is for her and my daughter. She and my daughter were yelling at the TV the last 200 metres and I think it might have helped me. Today was my big goal, I was really planning for the stage. I was second and third a lot last year but the team really trusted me and I have to thank the team."
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky 04:16:39
2 Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:00
3 Alejandro Valerde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:00
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 00:00:00
5 Salvatore Puccio (Ita) Team Sky 00:00:00
6 Peter Kennaugh (GBr) Team Sky 00:00:00
7 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 00:00:00
8 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Sky 00:00:00
9 Ruben Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:00
10 Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Ruben Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:00
Thanks for joining our live coverage this afternoon on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, and we'll be back with more live coverage from tomorrow's summit finish on the Mirador de Ezaro.
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