Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) won a chaotic sprint on Sunday to take stage 2 of the Vuelta a España, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) assumed the overall lead.
The 174km stage, run in hot, windy conditions, took the peloton from the Mediterranean port city of Algeciras to San Fernando on the southern Atlantic coast.
The course served up the category-3 Alto del Cabrito, which summited at 10.2km, and two intermediate sprints at 94.4km and 132.5km.
The day’s escape starred Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida) and Romain Hardy (Cofidis).
The break built an advantage of five minutes at one point, but it was down to 30 seconds with 30km remaining as the bunch decided to settle their hash early with the wind growing ever stronger and a very difficult finish in the offing that included narrow roads, a roundabout in the final 3km and a series of left and right turns.
With the catch made, Cannondale, Giant-Shimano and FDJ all went to war in the hectic final kilometers, and it was Bouhanni who proved fastest at the line. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) finished second with Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) third.
“We worked very hard for this,” said Bouhanni. “In the last moment we were in great position. It’s a great day for me and all of my team. You have to take your chances when you can. Each time I have a chance to win I will take it.”
On the overall, Valverde took the red jersey from teammate Jonathan Castroviejo. He now leads Nairo Quintana and Andrey Amador in a tie on time following Movistar’s victory in the opening team time trial.
“You always have to be at the front, to avoid crashes or splits in the peloton, and that’s why I am taking over the leader’s jersey,” said Valverde. “Tomorrow we’ll see if we work to defend the lead, or let it go with a breakaway.
“Perhaps there are some teammates who could take over the jersey. It’s clear Nairo [Quintana] is in good condition, and he’ll be better than me in the mountains. Now I am in the leader’s jersey, so let’s enjoy it, and then we’ll see what happens in the race.”
Monday’s third stage from Cadiz to Arcos de la Frontera sees the first serious climbing of the Vuelta with four category-3 climbs before a short uphill finish.