It was like déjà-vu all over again Thursday at the Vuelta a Murcia in Spain.
A day after Garmin-Transitions played the role as the major protagonist; the American squad was back at it again. Danny Pate again slipped into a breakaway and Robbie Hunter repeated his victory from Wednesday’s first stage at the five-day Spanish tour in another bunch sprint.
And the top-3 finishing order was exactly the same as the day before, with Hunter topping Graeme Brown (Rabobank) and Vicente Reynes (HTC-Columbia) trailing through in third.
Hunter and most of the top sprinters made it over two first-category rated climbs to contest the sprint in the 169.8km second stage. (Check out a full Graham Watson Gallery)
With the win, Hunter keeps the leader’s jersey going into Friday’s challenging climbing stage.
Pate, McCartney in break
The 169.8km second stage from Calasparra to Caravaca presented a tough challenge, with two passages up the Cat. 1 Alto de San Juan, with the final passage coming 40km from the finish.
Overnight leader Hunter wasn’t too optimistic about his chances of making it with the front group.
“To be honest, if the choice is left up to me I don’t think we should (defend the jersey) because (Thursday) is a hard day and I don’t want to extend myself too much,” Hunter said following his win in Wednesday’s first stage. “My chances of getting to the finish are 50-50, so there are probably better days to get results.”
Early in the stage, a big group of more than 20 riders pulled clear of the pack at about 25km and quickly opened up a 30-second gap. Cervélo was the only major team without a rider present in the group and massed their forces to neutralize the breakaway attempt.
Another break successfully pulled clear on the first passage up the San Juan climb. In the group were Jason McCartney (RadioShack) and Pate, who was in Wednesday’s main, four-man breakaway.
The gap over the top of the climb was about 1:15 when Team Sky did most of the heavy lifting to keep the breakaway on a short leash. With strong time trialists in McCartney and Pate, Sky didn’t want the breakaway to gain too much advantage in order to keep team captain’s Bradley Wiggins’ GC options alive.
All but one in the breakaway was neutralized before the beginning of the second passage up the San Juan climb, with Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil) fighting valiantly off the front, holding a two-minute gap over the summit.
Most of the top sprinters finished with the front group, stacking the odds greatly against Lagutin. He hung on gamely until 8km to go.
The 30th Murcia tour continues Friday with the 166.5km third stage from Las Torres de Cotillas to Alhama de Murcia.
In another hilly stage, the main hurdles are two, first-category climbs, including the Alto de Collado Bermejo (Cima Marco Pantani), which tops out 33km from the line. Despite the relatively long distance to the line, the climb is steep enough to break up the peloton with a smaller group of GC favorites and climbers likely pulling clear to contest for the stage.
Top-10, Stage 2
1. Robert Hunter (RSA), Garmin-Transitions, 169.8km in 4:20:12
2. Graeme Brown (Aus), Rabobank, s.t.
3. Vicente Reynes (Sp), HTC-Columbia, s.t.
4. Alexander Blain (GB), Endura Racing, s.t.
5. Daniel Schorn (G), NetApp, s.t.
6. Frantisek Rabon (Cz), HTC-Columbia, s.t.
7. Michel Kreder (Nl), Garmin-Transitions, s.t.
8. Ian Wilkinson (GB), Endura Racing, s.t.
9. Josep Jufré (Sp), Astana, s.t.
10. Daryl Impey (RSA), RadioShack, s.t.