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Vuelta a Espana stage 2 Live - Sprint finish in Utrecht

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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 2 of the Vuelta a España

There are huge crowds in 's-Hertogenbosch (yes, I obviously copy and pasted that) for the start of this opening road stage. There were impressive scenes in Utrecht yesterday too, the Netherlands city now having welcomed all three Grand Tours.

The Dutch know how to support a bike race, and are on course to rival the Danes at the recent Tour de France at this rate. 

The riders have all soaked up the atmosphere and are currently on the move, rolling out to kilometre-zero for the start of this stage, a 175km flat one that looks set to culminate in a bunch sprint. 

One factor that could prevent a 'bunchie' is the wind, with this being a twisting route fairly near the coast. But it's not blowing strongly today. One to watch, of course, but it's not obvious drama from that perspective. 

We're off

As I waffle on about the wind, the race is waved underway. We're in some sort of industrial hinterland and it's not pretty but it's a fast start. 

A group clips off the front and the peloton starts to ease. Breakaway imminent.

We're on a weirdly narrow road that looks more like a cycle path, but either way it's proving useful terrain for blocking the road in the bunch. 

We have six in this breakaway and we can see the orange of Euskaltel, the purple of Burgos, and the green of Kern Pharma. That's the Spanish wildcard teams accounted for. We've also got an EF and an Arkea. 

The riders in this break are:

Julius van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost)

Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH)

Xabier Mikel Azparren (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

Thibault Guernalec (Arkea-Smasic)

Pau Miquel (Kern Pharma)

It's easy going in the peloton as the gap reaches nearly three minutes after almost 15km of racing. 

"If you are stuck for stories..." my colleague Alasdair Fotheringham texts from Utrecht, in what I hope is not a judgement on how this live blog has started out, but a sympathetic attempt to help me fill these next four flat and windless hours.

"The start town was where the 1996 Tour de France began. Pissed down with rain, crashes everywhere, and a press room in a cattle market that reeked of manure. We loved it."

Not sure quite how to unpack that...

Reports of a protest blocking the road. We've seen a lorry with the word 'gas' and something else in Dutch on the side, and it is blocking a road, but not sure if it's blocking the race route. Watch this space.

159km to go

Five minutes the gap now (and no sign of a protest), as Alpecin-Deceuninck, team of Tim Merlier, come to the front of the bunch to keep things under control.

It has just started to rain lightly. 

The gap comes down to four minutes. Alpecin have a rider on the nose but Israel-Premier Tech have a few men up there. Their sprinter is Itamar Einhorn. 

150km to go

3:30 now as the gap continues to fall. 

Some, erm, interesting... comments from QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere after the TTT.

Lefevere: Jumbo-Visma come from another planet

It's not frantic, but Alpecin continue to set a really strong tempo, and the gap keeps falling 2:15 now and that seems like an unnecessarily tight margin with 144km to go. 

The gap hovers just above two minutes as we move into a long tailwind section of the route. 

Here's the map for today's stage. We're on that long stretch east. 

Vuelta a España stage 2 map

(Image credit: La Vuelta)

Here's the peloton tackling a bridge in what is among the biggest inclines they'll face today.

UTRECHT NETHERLANDS AUGUST 20 A general view of the peloton passing across a bridge landscape during the 77th Tour of Spain 2022 Stage 2 a 1751km stage from sHertogenbosch to Utrecht LaVuelta22 WorldTour on August 20 2022 in Utrecht Netherlands Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

And here's race leader Robert Gesink alongside three-time Vuelta champion Primoz Roglic

UTRECHT NETHERLANDS AUGUST 20 LR Robert Gesink of Netherlands and Team Jumbo Visma Red Leader Jersey Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo Visma Green Points Jersey compete at start during the 77th Tour of Spain 2022 Stage 2 a 1751km stage from sHertogenbosch to Utrecht LaVuelta22 WorldTour on August 20 2022 in Utrecht Netherlands Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

118km to go

Alpecin continue to work weirdly hard and the gap drops below the two-minute mark. 

I mentioned the word weird. Well now we have a two-man split off the front of the bunch. Alpecin are still going really hard and one Israel rider asks 'why' and apparently just lets the gap go.

That means another Alpecin rider has to come around and stitch things back together. Alpecin aren't looking to exploit the wind, they're just riding hard for... well I don't know quite why. They could give the breakaway 10 minutes here and still catch them but they're pegging them back to 1:45 now.

The gap drops below one minute

30 seconds now!

What is happening?

We're 35km from the only climb of the day, a cat-4 pimple. We're 15km from a change in direction. But why would Alpecin care about the KOM jersey? And it doesn't look like echelon strength crosswinds...

The Alpecin riders' shoulders are swinging. This bunch is properly shifting now... and they're going to wipe out the break

The breakaway quintet look around and see the bunch

Onto another bridge and the breakaway are dangling out front and having to go all-in just to do so.

100km to go

Into the final 100 and Alpecin, having seemingly dropped off a little, pick up the pace again on narrower, twistier roads. The gap is around 10 seconds.

But now they do back off! What?!

The peloton bunches up and what had been a single-file line now sees a row of riders across the full width of the road - a clear indication the pace has been knocked off.

The gap goes back out to 45 seconds but Alpecin are back riding in single file again...

Israel have backed off. The team behind Alpecin is now that of the race leader, Jumbo-Visma.

85km to go

The five-man breakaway have a lead of 30 seconds over the peloton.

Over in Denmark, Christophe Laporte has notched another Jumbo-Visma victory, or rather, two. He wins the uphill sprint on the final stage of the Tour of Denmark to snatch the overall title on bonus seconds. Report and results in the link below.

Laporte overhauls Sheffield to win Tour of Denmark

We're 10km from the first and only climb of the day. It's the Amerongse climb and it's been given the full Spanish treatment to be badged up as the 'Alto de Amerongse'.

It's 2.1km long at 2.4%, which is not going to strike fear into anyone, but it does have a fairly steep pitch at the bottom. 

Pretty much the sole function of this climb will be to anoint a King of the Mountains. Chris Harper, somewhat randomly, wears the polka-dot jersey today but there were no points handed out on yesterday's flat TTT, and there are no more climbs today after the Amerongse, so the first to the top will have the jersey tomorrow. 

Up in the breakaway, Jetse Bol is riding for one of the Spanish wildcard teams, Burgos BH. They'd love the jersey for their sponsors, but there's the added incentive of Bol being Dutch and racing on home soil.

EF have Julius van den Berg up there. They're the only WorldTour team represented but we saw at the Tour their willingness to go after the early polka-dots through Magnus Cort. A day in a special jersey at a Grand Tour actually carries some UCI points, which, for a team near the bottom of the rankings like EF, is quite handy too.

75km to go

As we discuss the breakaway's chances, it begins to look like it won't be any of them. Alpecin bring the gap down to 23 seconds, 5km out from the climb.

Attack! Guernalec pings out from the break, ahead of the climb. Van den Berg goes after him.

The other three work their way back. 

1500 metres to the foot of the climb and that attack sees the gap go back out to a minute. 

Onto the climb.

Bol launches a big acceleration

The Dutchman tries to split the group on the steep section but nothing doing.

And now Bol is dropped.

A dip down and a false flat now and they're knocking chunks out of each other from range here.

The KOM banner comes into sight and Van den Berg hits out and takes it! He earns the polka-dots for tomorrow.

Guernalec was second across that line, collecting the final KOM point, Van den Berg having taken two. Pau Miquel was also up there in third and tried to push the pace after the climb.

67km to go

Bol has now rejoined but Azparren hasn't... and as I write that the Spaniard does make it back at last. So it's the original five breakaway riders back together and 52 seconds up on the peloton, where Alpecin-Deceuninck are on the front without anyone - themselves included? - knowing what they're doing.

Here are Alpecin and there's the Belgian champ Tim Merlier, who's the favourite for today.

UTRECHT NETHERLANDS AUGUST 20 Tim Merlier of Belgium and Team AlpecinDeceuninck competes during the 77th Tour of Spain 2022 Stage 2 a 1751km stage from sHertogenbosch to Utrecht LaVuelta22 WorldTour on August 20 2022 in Utrecht Netherlands Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Alpecin are now closing in on the breakaway again! 59km to go...

58.5km to go

Breakaway over

That's it, after a lot of chasing then backing off, chasing then backing off, Alpecin-Deceuninck have now brought the peloton up to the head of the race. The five-man break survived to the KOM climb, and since then they perhaps understandably lost motivation, being on such a tight leash. Anyway it's all together with nearly 60km to go. What happens now?

Alpecin continue to ride hard. A reminder that crosswinds were part of the conversation but the wind isn't blowing strongly today. 

Let's talk about the sprinting line-up

Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is the favourite, the Belgian champion, winning 13 races in the past 18 months. A win here would make him part of the climb of stage winners in all three Grand Tours. 

Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) is the most decorated on paper but is all out of sorts this year in his first season back with the German team. He looks devoid of form and confidence. 

Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) is also a shadow of the rider he was a few years ago but also boasts wins in the Giro and Vuelta and has a recent one at the Tour de Pologne. 

Outsiders include: Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Kaden Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco), Dan McLay (Arkea-Samsic), Jake Steward (Groupama-FDJ), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), Itamar Einhorn (Israel-Premier Tech), Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma).

50km to go

Into the final 50 and we're heading along as one peloton towards the finish. No fresh breakaway but we could see some last-gasp attempts to upset the sprinters on what is a fairly technical run-in.

Reaction from Evenepoel after yesterday's TTT start, including stuff on that ridiculous sock TT helmet. 

Remco Evenepoel says Specialized head sock helmet 'a lot faster' after strong TTT start to Vuelta a España

Attack!! Here we go, Euskaltel light it back up

It's Luis Angel Maté and that's good news for the environment as the Spaniard is planting a tree for every kilometre he spends in the breakaway at this Vuelta. 

Here's more on Maté and his efforts

Maté racing to plant 'a Vuelta forest' at the Vuelta a España

A small mishap for Mark Donovan (DSM) at the back of the bunch.

Jumbo-Visma are gathered behind what is now a lone Alpecin rider at the head of the bunch. 

38km to go

Maté has 30 seconds in hand.

You've probably heard that Dan Bigham broke the Hour Record yesterday. Have you seen his bike? We've got the details. 

Dan Bigham uses prototype Pinarello bike for Hour Record ride

We've had plenty of roads flanked by bike paths here in the Netherlands, and that means plenty of amateurs heading out to test how long they can keep pace with the pros. There's really not been too much action beyond that today.

We're into the final 30 now and we've had a change in proceedings. It's no longer an Alpecin representative on the nose of the peloton, but plenty of teams getting organised as we prepare for the run-in.

15 seconds for Maté and he's going through a sea of fans. Again. The Dutch fans have packed the streets on so many parts of this course. Fantastic effort.

This feels a little like the Tour - an opening time trial then a flat opening stage that's largely dull from a sporting perspective but has been enlivened by the public.

Crash. A Movistar bike is on the ground, but no sign of rider. It belongs to Grego Muhlberger.

23km to go and Maté is being reeled in. 

21km to go

Maté is caught. All together again.

By my rough calculation, Maté lasted 24km out front, so that's 24 trees to be planted. 

Muhlberger's jersey is ripped and shoulder dusted but he's back in the bunch now.

20km to go

Jumbo-Visma take control of the peloton with five men in a line.

Crash. Another one. Wout Poels is down along with two from Lotto

Kamil Malecki is up on his feet but Steff Crass is not, and that looks like it could be Vuelta over.

The race goes on and Jumbo continue to lead as we approach the day's intermediate sprint.

Here come Bora, and Trek as well, all looking for points.

It's a wide drag strip on the Soesterberg airstrip, and Mads Pedersen breezes through to take maximum points.

15km to go

It's now time for the sprint run-in and QuickStep-AlphaVinyl hit the front en masse.

A bit of muscle memory maybe as QuickStep haven't brought a sprinter here, but they do have GC contender Remco Evenepoel to protect. 

QuickStep set up shop on the left. Movistar are in the middle, and Bahrain on the right. BikeEschange also have some presence and now UAE are moving up.

Here was the result at the intermediate sprint

1. Pedersen, 20 pts
2. Mullen, 17 pts
3. Hayter, 15 pts
4. Hoole, 13 pts
5. Ackermann, 10 pts

It's fairly calm at the moment but the run-in will get frantic. There are roundabouts, road furniture, and a few 90-degree bends in the final 4km.

Bahrain are still on the right. Landa tried to suggest he wasn't here for GC. They've got a funny way of showing it here.

A reminder of our overview of the contenders today

Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is the favourite, the Belgian champion, winning 13 races in the past 18 months. A win here would make him part of the climb of stage winners in all three Grand Tours. 

Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) is the most decorated on paper but is all out of sorts this year in his first season back with the German team. He looks devoid of form and confidence. 

Pascal Ackermann (UAE Team Emirates) is also a shadow of the rider he was a few years ago but also boasts wins in the Giro and Vuelta and has a recent one at the Tour de Pologne. 

Outsiders include: Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), Gerben Thijssen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), Kaden Groves (BikeExchange-Jayco), Dan McLay (Arkea-Samsic), Jake Steward (Groupama-FDJ), Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo), Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), Itamar Einhorn (Israel-Premier Tech), Mike Teunissen (Jumbo-Visma).

7.5km to go

7.5km to go and we're on a long straight at the moment, with no change to formation. QuickStep - Movistar - Bahrain from a bird's-eye view.

Roundabout coming up. 

It's a sweeping right-hand bend and there's no real change on exit.

Ineos barge their way up through the middle now.

Another sweeping bend and now it gets messy

Israel try and move up on the right. BikeExchange have a couple in the middle, and Bora look a little lost. Alpecin are nowhere to be seen.

Big chicane and Ineos take command through it.

And just as I question Alpecin, Merlier appears in third wheel

4km to go

Merlier has a man with him now and he's in a great position behind an Ineos duo as things get technical. 

Through another chicane and now a 90-degree bend. Ineos have the nose with two riders ahead of Merlier and his lead-out man.

3km to go

There's the safety net of the 3km to go banner. GC times are neutralised now in the event of a crash.

The Alpecin rider takes it up as Merlier slips down the pack. UAE have moved Ackermann up.

Alaphilippe is right up there for Evenepoel

Ineos have Van Baarle and Turner on the front again, and now Carapaz is up with them. 2km to go!!

BikeExchange have got themselves together now. 

Van Baarle peels off. 1.5km to go and UAE take it up. DSM up there too. 

1km to go

Flamme rouge! Here we go! DSM take over from UAE 

But UAE reassert themselves and now Arkea look to get involved.

And here are Trek!

And now Bora!±

Bennett hits out, Merlier is behind him, Pedersen alongside

Bennett wins it!!

Wow. Sam Bennett rescues his season!!

Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) wins stage 2 of the Vuelta a España

Pedersen takes second, Merlier third.

See more

Results

Let's hear from the winner

"Danny brought me up with speed, then he was kind of ready for me to jump, but I waited a second, and I didn't know if I'd let my speed drop too much, and I was nervous I wouldn't get on top of the speed again. 

"Danny didn't deliver me; he launched me. It was down to the boys today."

As for winning a Grand Tour stage again after two years

"It's nice. I knew I'd do it again, it was just a matter of getting the right legs. What I'm really happy about is continuing my pattern of winning at least one stage in every Grand Tour I've done since 2018."

The winner's shot

Vuelta Espana 2022 77th edition 2nd stage sHertogenbosch Utrecht 1751 km 20082022 Sam Bennett IRL Bora Hansgrohe Mads Pedersen DEN Trek Segafredo photo Luis Angel Gomez GomezSprintCyclingAgency2022

(Image credit: Sprint Cycling Agency)

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