Nicholas Roche of Saxo-Tinkoff attacked late on the punishing Cat One summit finish of Stage Two of the 2013 Vuelta a España and grabbed the stage win, while Vincenzo Nibali, whose Astana team won the Stage One team time trial, took over the leaders red jersey.
Most of the 178-km stage was flat and fast, with a single Cat Three climb just before halfway; all the action was compressed onto the final eleven kilometers, a cat One climb starting at over eight percent, but with some three-percent stretches to let riders rest before more ten-percent slopes at the finish.
A three-rider break escaped right from the start: Alex Rasmussen (Garmin-Sharp,) Greg Henderson (Lotto Belisol,) and Francisco Aramandia (Caja Rural) opened a gap of over twelve minutes before the peloton decided to reel them in. A fierce headwind on the second half of the route hurt the break considerably, but they never had a chance anyway; the General Classification contenders and the pure climbers wanted the stage.
The break was caught in the first kilometer of the climb, with Movistar, riding for Alejandro Valverde, pushing the pace very hard. Right behind Movistar’s Jose Herrada rode Jacob Fuglsang and Vincenzo Nibali of Astana. Janez Brajkovic, who wore red after being the first of the Astana team across the line the day before, didn’t have the legs to ride up front, though he fought hard top stay on the back of the lead group.
Movistar’s pace did cause a couple of casualties: Sky’s Sergio Henao, and Euskaltel’s Sammy Sanchez, both possible overall contenders, cracked on the climb and lost too much time to get back into contention.
Movistar brought five riders to the front for the final 3.5 kilometers, determined to control the race; they kept the pace ridiculously high, hoping to stave off attacks so Valverde could contest an uphill sprint at the line.
NetApp’s Leopold König, who won a similar stage in the 2013 Tour of California, spoiled Movistar’s plans with a strong attack 1600 meters from the finish. None of the GC riders responded; each waited for the other to go first, and while they waited, König opened a good gap.
Finally a few riders decided to risk chasing: Roche, Katusha’s Dani Moreno, and AG2R’s Domenico Pozzovivo set off in pursuit. This trio caught the NetApp rider within a few hundred meters, and few hundred meters later, when the road again climbed up at ten percent, Pozzovivo made his bid. Nicholas ZRoche dragged the others up to Pozzovivo around the 400-meter mark, and went right over the top, accelerating away from the AG2R rider and the rest.
Moreno took a moment to catch his breath and then set off in pursuit again, but he ran out of road, and out of legs; Roche crossed the line two seconds ahead of the Katusha rider, with Pozzovivo six seconds back.
Vincenzo Nibali finished 16th, 14 seconds behind Roche, which gave him the race lead by eight seconds over the Saxo rider, and ten seconds ahead of a trio of RadioShack riders. The top 16 riders are within 36 seconds of the leader and the top 40 within a minute; of the pre-race favorites, only Sammy Sanchez and Sergio Henao lost too much time to make up.
Stage three is a sprinters’ stage; GC won’t be affected. The fast men will get their chance for glory, and the rst of the peloton will get a rest to prepare for the rest of the three-week race.