Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) took a long overdue and hugely deserved victory at the summit of the Monte da Groba to win the second stage of the 2013 Vuelta a Espana.
The Irishman launched his decisive attack with just 300 metres to go after Leopold König(Netapp-Endura) and then Domenico Pozzovivo had made their own bids for victory in the final kilometre.
Roche, ostensibly riding the Vuelta in support of Roman Kreuziger, is now second overall, behind Vincenzo Niabli (Astana), the 2010 Vuelta champion and the winner in May of the Giro d’Italia.
Roche said he had followed König in the knowledge that he would be unable to outsprint Alejandro Valverde, whose Movistar team had set a relentless pace to the first category summit.
“In the last kilometre, I tried to remain calm,” said Roche. “I opened a long sprint, and kept up the pressure to the finish line.”
Roche’s decisive move was the final act of an enthralling final 10km. The day-long, three-man breakaway of Greg Henderson (Lotto-Belisol), Alex Rasmussen (Garmin-Sharp), and Caja-Rural’s Javier Aramendia was swept up on the lower slopes of the Monte da Groba.
The grandee teams moved to the front immediately, with Movistar setting a ferocious tempo that only the GC contenders could match. Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and Kreuziger positioned themselves behind Valverde, who sat third wheel behind team-mates Sylvester Szmyd and Benat Intxausti.
The pace proved too hot for some of the biggest names in the peloton. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was the first of the major contenders to be dropped, and Lotto-Belisol’s Jelle Vanendert was shelled soon after.
Team Sky leader, Sergio Henao, was next through the exit door, and by the time the elite group hit the 2km to go banner, the shell shocked Colombian had lost 40 seconds.
Niabli, Rodriguez, Basso, and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) clung on determinedly to the Movistar express, which continued at full speed into the final two kilometres.
With a shootout among the GC contenders seemingly guaranteed, König sprinted off the front just 1,500 metres from the finish with a ferocity that stunned the WorldTour stars. Winner at the summit of Mount Diablo on the seventh stage of the Tour of California earlier this year, and at Caerphilly Mountain in last year’s Tour of Britain, the Czech rider’s assault could not be ignored.
Daniel Moreno (Katusha) was the first to respond, dragging Roche and Pozzovivo with him. The trio caught König shortly after passing beneath the flamme rouge, and Pozzovivo was the next to try his luck.
Roche, however, would not be denied, and opened his sprint a full 300 metres from the line, passing Pozzovivo and quickly establishing an unbridgeable gap. With 100 metres still remaining, victory was assured, and the son of Triple Crown winner, Stephen Roche, found time to zip up his jersey, undoubtedly to his father’s approval.
There will be few more popular victories this season. The likeable Roche has long toiled in his father’s shadow, but today belongs to him alone.
Vuelta a Espana 2013: stage two – result
1) Nicolas Roche (IRE) – Saxo-Tinkoff – 4.37.09
2) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +2″
3) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +6″
4) Leopold Konig (CZE) – Netapp-Endura +11″
5) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +12″
6) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – ST
7) Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha
8) Ivan Basso (ITA) – Cannondale +14″
9) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin – ST
10) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Team Sky
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 5.07.22
2) Nicolas Roche (IRE) – Saxo-Tinkoff +8″
3) Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) – Radioshack-Leopard +10″
4) Christopher Horner (USA) – Radioshack-Leopard – ST
5) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Radioshack-Leopard
6) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Team Sky +22″
7) Ben Hermans (BEL) – Radioshack-Leopard +27″
8) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar – ST
9) Rafal Majka (POL) – Saxo-Tinkoff +32″
10) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Saxo-Tinkoff – ST