Nicolas Roche attacks to win Vuelta a Espana stage two
Nicolas Roche wins, Vuelta a Espana 2013, stage two
Irishman Nicholas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) took a long awaited first grand tour stage in day two at the Vuelta, while pre-race favourite Vincenzo Nibali claimed the leader's jersey from his Astana team mate Janez Brajkovic.
Unusually for the first weekend of a grand tour, stage two featured a mountain top finish. Nevertheless, after catching the break of the day - featuring Alex Rasmussen (Garmin-Sharp), Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol) and Francisco Aramendia (Caja Rural) - the major favourites all opted to ride conservatively and save themselves for the bigger climbs that lie in wait later in the route.
Roche capitalised on the favourites' defensive tactics by attacking in the final few kilometres, before outsprinting three fellow escapees for the victory.
Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) was the first to make a move, but was caught by the counter-attacking Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2R) and Roche.
Pozzovivo began the sprint with a long range effort, but Roche's superior speed in the finale and sense of timing saw him win, two seconds ahead of Moreno and six ahead of the Italian climber. Konig, who looked particularly laboured in his initial attack, was eleven seconds back in fourth.
Roche has suffered a series of near misses in the past, especially in grand tour stages, but today finally sees him claim victory of a stature pundits have long tipped him to achieve. Despite frequently featuring in the mountains at the Tour de France, and with a grand tour top ten to his name in the 2011 Vuelta, his biggest career wins prior to today were the Irish national championships and a stage in the Tour of Beijing.
The cliché goes that you can't win the Vuelta on a stage like this, but you can lose it. Among those whose GC ambitions look in peril are Samuel Sanchez, whose Euskaltel team were relying on him to ensure their outgoing team retire in style, Sky's leader Sergio Henao, and his fellow Colombian Carlos Betancur (Ag2r), who both all dropped on the final climb.
Losing over nine minutes certainly seems to have killed off Betancur's hopes for a podium, but the two minutes 41 lost by Henao, given how early this is in the race and the amount of climbing to come, could mean hope remains for the Sky leader. His team, however, may not see it that way, and could potentially promote Rigoberto Uran as leader instead, who finished in the peloton alongside the likes of Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Another rider dropped was Brajkovic, who was unable to hold on to the leader's jersey. Regardless, his Astana team will still have the responsibility of defending it as their leader Nibali inherits it, positioned eight seconds ahead of second-placed Roche. But it was Movistar who led the peloton up the mountain, suggesting that the Spanish team plan to take the race to their rivals when the gradient goes uphill.
Vuelta a Espana 2013, stage two:Pontevedra to Alto Do Monte Da Groba, 176.8km
1. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Saxo-Tinkoff in 4-37-09
2. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 2 secs
3. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r at 6 secs
4. Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura at 11 secs
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 12 secs
6. Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida at same time
7. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at same time
8. Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale at 14 secs
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin at same time
10. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky at same time
172. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 9-53
195. Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 16-38
Overall classification after stage two
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana in 5-07-22
2. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Saxo-Tinkoff at 8 secs
3. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack-Leopard at 10 secs
4. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard at 10 secs
5. Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) RadioShack Leopard at 10 secs
6. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky at 22 secs
7. Ben Hermans (Bel) RadioShack Leopard at 27 secs
8. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 27 secs
9. Rafal Majka (Pol) Saxo-Tinkoff at 32 secs
10. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Saxo-Tinkoff at 32 secs
113. Luke Rowe (GBr) Sky at 10-01
194. Andrew Fenn (GBr) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 19-38
Henderson, Aramendia and Rasmussen in the early break
Movistar and Astana
Nicolas Roche wins
Vincenzo Nibali takes the race lead
Vuelta a Espana 2013: Related links
Vuelta 2013 coverage index
Vuelta a Espana 2013: Stage reports
Stage one: Astana takes opening team time trial
Vuelta a Espana 2013: Photo galleries
Stage one photo gallery