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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España stage 2: Sam Bennett blasts back in big bunch sprint

Irishman roars back to the top to end frustrating period.

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Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) ended a long wait for another grand tour stage victory, clocking up success on the first sprint stage of the Vuelta a España on Saturday.

The Irishman had a perfect leadout from his Bora-Hansgrohe team and finished half a length clear of Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segefredo) and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in Utrecht.

The success is the fourth Vuelta stage win for Bennett, his ninth career victory in a three-week race and, importantly, his first such win since taking a stage in the 2020 Vuelta.

While he won the Eschborn-Frankfurt earlier this year, this success brings to a close a long period of frustration sparked off by a knee injury in June 2021.

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Mike Teunissen finished fourth on the stage and replaced his Jumbo-Visma teammate Robert Gesink at the head of the general classification after the latter lost 43 seconds.

Others to concede time included Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citröen), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

The stage featured an initial five-man breakaway comprising Julius van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost), Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), Xabier Mikel Azparren (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Thibault Guernalec (Arkea-Smasic) and Pau Miquel (Kern Pharma). Van den Berg took the sole categorized climb to snag the King of the Mountains jersey, with that move being reeled in with just under 60 kilometers remaining.

Luis Ángel Maté (Euskaltel-Euskadi) launched soon afterward but he too was hauled back, with a big bunch sprint settling the stage, and Bennett proving best.

He said that was worried that he had made an error in not jumping right away. “Danny [van Poppel] brought me up with speed and he was ready for me to jump, but I waited just for a second. I didn’t know if I left my speed drop a little bit too much, because Danny was coming with so much speed that I should have went straight away.

“I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t get on top of the speed again, but in the end we came from behind… Danny didn’t deliver me, he launched me.”

Bennett has said recently that he felt pressure to deliver after his team had given him the perfect leadout on several occasions this year but he didn’t have the legs. This time he did, and he was keen to thank them.

“It was down to the boys today, they did a fantastic job bringing me to the intermediate. We tried to just collect points, we didn’t try to go for the actual first place in that to keep the legs for the final. They brought me to the line with great legs. In the moment you are just racing. I was more worried about holding on than being worried about passing people.”

Some doubted Bennett’s ability; he said he didn’t have such worries.

“It is nice. I knew I would do it again. It was just a matter of getting the right legs. What I am really happy about is continuing my pattern in each Grand Tour since 2018. I have won at least one stage in each. So I am happy to continue with that.”

Trying to foil the sprinters

Like Friday’s team time trial, stage 2 of the Vuelta a España was on flat roads, with just one official climb inching skywards.

This was the category four Alto de Almerongse, which was located 105.1km after the start and 70km from the finish. At just 2.1km long and averaging a mere 2.4 percent in gradient, it served primarily to allocate the race’s first King of the Mountains jersey. The stage also featured a bonus sprint 17km from the finish.

While a big bunch sprint was deemed highly likely, five riders decided to try their luck and went clear right after the start. The quintet comprised van den Berg, Bol, Azparren, Guernalec, and Miquel , who turned 22 on Saturday. These had a lead of 11 seconds after 3km.

The peloton wasn’t too worried by the move and by 15km the leaders had five minutes. Alpecin-Deceuninck then swung into action to halve those gains and, together with Israel-PremierTech, further pared it back. It was down to just 12 seconds with 106km to go, but the break knuckled down again to expand this to 43 seconds over the following 14km.

The group was nearing the day’s climb and thinking of the King of the Mountains jersey, Guernalec jumped away in a solo move. The others were having none of that and reeled him in again, with the Arkea-Samsic rider finishing second to Van de Berg at the summit.

The break was then reeled in with 59km remaining, bringing everything back together.

Luis Ángel Maté (Euskaltel – Euskadi) fired off a solo attack during the stage, having pledged to plant trees for every kilometer he is clear. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Green-inspired breakaway followed by big bunch sprint

Luis Ángel Maté started the Vuelta with a very noble ambition, that of planning a tree for every kilometer he spends in a breakaway. The Spaniard had already donated 100 trees to a reforestation initiative before the race, and wanted to add to that, so he clipped away in a solo move 45 kilometers from the line.

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The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider had a lead of 35 seconds with 30km remaining and continued to plug away. He was eventually hauled back with 21 kilometers remaining, 14 trees added to his to do list for after the Vuelta.

Gregor Mühlberger (Movistar) hit the deck just before the recapture but was able to remount. A more serious spill happened approximately 5km later when Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) fell and was left sprawled on the ground.

Former world champion Pedersen then won the intermediate sprint ahead of Ryan Mullen (Bora-Hansgrohe). The pace ramped up further through the impetus of the sprinters’ teams and everything was still together heading towards the line.

The Alpecin-Deceuninck and Ineos-Grenadiers teams were amongst the most active in the finale, with Team DSM and UAE Team Emirates driving the pace inside the final kilometer. Bora-Hansgrohe left it late but then powered through inside the final 500 metres, with Danny van Poppel setting Bennett up perfectly for the win.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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