Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won stage 1 of the Volta a Catalunya on Monday in Calella, Spain.
Meersman took the race’s first leader’s jersey with the victory, while a number of overall contenders took time on the peloton with a late escape in the 159-kilometer stage. Joe Dombrowski and Sky ratcheted up the pace in the bunch on the final climb, a Cat. 3 inside the final 30 kilometers. Sky’s Bradley Wiggins went to the front on the descent and the group split from the peloton, freeing 13 riders in the final run-in to the line.
Among the leaders were GC heavyweights Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Robert Gesink (Blanco), Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida), and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). Wiggins pushed hard at the front of the group, with David Lopez and Dario Cataldo along with him.
Wiggins led out the sprint with Daniel Martin (Garmin-Sharp) behind him. Martin jumped to the right inside 150 meters, but Meersman came around on his right from deep in the group for the stage win. Valerio Agnoli (Astana) was second, with Valverde third.
The peloton came through 28 seconds later.
“I won and that’s fantastic, even considering the names at the front,” said Meersman. “I was forced to abandon Paris-Nice and was a little disappointed because I knew my condition was there, but I wasn’t able to show it. So, I stayed two days at home and then went to Calpe to train with [teammates] Dries Devenyns and Pieter Serry. We did good work together and today, all the hard work paid off. Sometimes in cycling you have to be a little bit lucky and also have the good condition to do the right thing.”
Agnoli tried to close on Meersman in the final 50 meters, but ran out of tarmac.
“Sky was protecting their riders after a small crash, and they got away with two or three other really important guys before anybody could react,” Agnoli said. “Meersman had a lot more speed than I did in the final 200 meters, but I’m happy with a podium. The team has placed a lot of confidence in me this year, and I would have liked to pay them back with a victory. After Tirreno-Adriatico last week I feel good and will look forward to another day in Spain and another chance tomorrow.”