Marcel Kittel (GIant-Shimano) has won stage two of the 2014 Giro d’Italia, outsprinting Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) to earn victory in Belfast.
Favourite for the stage prior to the race, Kittel lived up to expectations with a perfectly timed acceleration to beat Bouhanni and Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek Factory Racing) into second and third respectively.
With heavy rain falling on the Northern Irish capital, road conditions were less than ideal but the peloton, after reeling in the last of the day’s break inside the final four kilometres, stayed together to set up Kittel for his first WorldTour win of the season.
Further back Michael Matthews, who finished eighth, moved into the pink jersey – taking over from team-mate Svein Tuft as had been expected pre-stage.
Matthews had only to finish ahead of his team-mates after their team time trial win on stage one to earn the maglia rosa and will now wear it into Dublin on tomorrow’s third stage.
Having rolled out of a wet Titanic Quarter in Belfast, it did not take long for the day’s break to form – Sander Armee (Lotto-Belisol), Jeffry Romero (Colombia), Maarten Tjallingii (Belkin) and Andrea Fedi (Neri Sottoli) going up the road.
The damp conditions made for a nervous peloton, with Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) among the riders to hit the deck. Having already lost time in the team time trial, it was another blow for Joaquim Rodriguez’s team but, despite staying down for some time, the Italian rejoined the race.
Up the road, the lead of the four escapees grew to a maximum of over six minutes, but with stage one winners Orica-GreenEDGE joined by the sprint teams at the front of the bunch it was never likely to succeed.
The Australian team was riding in support of pink jersey Svein Tuft, but the Canadian’s moment in the sun was tempered slightly by the fact he was forced to cover the maglia rosa with his black rain jacket.
The wet conditions meant the race speed was down slightly on what had been expected too, while there was no shortage of riders suffering mechanical problems – Movistar and Orica-GreenEDGE among the teams affected.
Back at the front, Fedi attempted a long attack for the first King of the Mountains points of this year’s Giro, but Tjallingii was quick to close him down.
And the Dutchman launched his own counter-attack as they approached the peak of Cushendall Road, outpacing Romero to earn three points and move top of the mountains classification.
The peloton had less success up the climb however, the narrow roads forcing Bjorn Thurau (Team Europcar) to unclip and briefly creating a bottleneck – an early warning for the riders with a similarly narrow final straight awaiting.
Mechanicals continued to cause problems on the very wet roads, Andre Cardoso – one of the Garmin-Sharp riders to have crashed on stage one – requiring assistance from the mechanics.
Technical problems aside however, the Northern Irish headland did not prove to be as fearsome as anticipated. Whle the wind coming off the coast was strong, the bunch remained packed together.
The gap had fallen to just two minutes by the time the peloton reached Whitehead, with Nairo Quintana’s Movistar team among those looking to stay out of trouble at the front.
Up the road, the four escapees did battle once again for the final King of the Mountains points, with Armee looking to lead out a long sprint. Once again it was closed down, however, and Tjallingii accelerated to take maximum points again and earn the blue jersey.
Having contested the climbs, the escapees looked content to sit up with the Belkin man receiving the congratulations of his companions for the day. Fedi led the way through the day’s intermediate sprint, Armee following him, but their lead was more than manageable for the bunch.
Though the gap stayed above the one minute mark, as Orica-GreenEDGE eased the pace over the top of Knocknagulliagh, attention was already turning to the sprint with 15 kilometres remaining.
Continuing to work well together, the four stayed out into the final ten kilometres as they headed back towards the city centre but there was no shortage of teams moving forward to drive the pace in the bunch.
Romero was the first to sit up, while Tjallingii launched one final, solo bid for success inside the final eight kilometres.
At the front of the bunch, Cannondale led the way – closing down the Belkin man’s solo lead with every pedal stroke – while the other sprint teams began to form at the front.
The race came back together with 3.5 kilometres remaining, and sprint trains formed across the road at the front of the bunch.
Giant-Shimano, Cannondale, FDJ.fr and Trek Factory Racing were all involved as the finish line approached at the front of the strung out peloton.
Giant-Shimano led the way in to the final kilometre, but as they approached the sharp left-hand turn the team looked to have lost control as Orica-GreenEDGE hit the front with 300m to go.
The Australian team was joined by FDJ.fr at the front, but Kittel spotted the danger and attacked with impeccable timing.
Coming around Bouhanni, the Frenchman had no answer to Kittel’s power as he celebrated with arms aloft as he crossed the finish line.
Orica-GreenEDGE’s efforts did not go unrewarded however, as Matthews moved into the overall lead ahead of another largely flat stage on day three.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage two – result
1) Marcel Kittel (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 5.13.12hrs
2) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr – ST
3) Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA) – Trek Factory Racing
4) Elia Viviani (ITA) – Cannondale
5) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
6) Manuel Belletti (ITA) – Androni Giacattoli-Venezuela
7) Ben Swift (GBR) – Team Sky
8) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
9) Davide Appollonio (ITA) –Ag2r-La Mondiale
10) Tyler Farrar (USA) – Garmin-Sharp
General classification (provisional)
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 5.37.54
2) Luke Durbridge (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE +3″
3) Ivan Santaromita (ITA) – Orica -GreenEDGE – ST
4) Svein Tuft (CAN) – Orica-GreenEDGE
5) Pieter Weening (NED) – Orica-GreenEDGE
6) Cameron Meyer (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
7) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +5″
8) Gianluca Brambilla (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – ST
9) Pieter Serry (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10) Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep