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Another victory for Omega Pharma-Quick Step on a day where Sky went on the attack to gain 28 seconds on a number of their GC rivals

Photo: OPQS / Tim de Waele

BRADLEY WIGGINS

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GIANNI MEERSMAN

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QUICK-STEP - ALPHA VINYL

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TEAM SKY

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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18.03.2013 @ 16:51 Posted by Frederik Palle Pedersen

Sky put in another display of impressive strength with a powerful attack on the descent of today's first stage of the Volta a Catalunya. Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) outsprinted a small group to take his first win for his new team while riders like Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Robert Gesink (Blanco) and Dan Martin (Garmin) all gained 28 seconds on their GC rivals.

 

Most expected today's opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya to be one for the strong sprinters. With the first season victory for Gianni Meersman, this turned out to be the case.

 

What few anticipated was a dramatic GC battle where the Sky team used an innocuous descent to distance most of their GC rivals. With Bradley Wiggins showing impressive strength in his first European stage race of the year, a massive acceleration on the final descent inside the final 18 km of the stage drew clear a 13-rider lead group which managed to keep the hard-chasing peloton at bay on the final run-in to the line.

 

The group consisted of Meersman, Wiggins, Dario Cataldo (Sky), David Lopez (Sky), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha), Michele Scarponi (Lampre), Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre), Robert Gesink (Blanco), Dan Martin (Garmin), Danilo Wyss (BMC) and Valerio Agnoli (Astana), and with a number of the biggest GC favourites present and eyeing and chance to make up time the collaboration was perfect.

 

At the back of the group, Meersman fancied his chances as one of the fastest men of the group and saved his legs for the final sprint. Inside the final kilometer, Wiggins took a massive turn on the front , and the riders starting their sprint even had trouble passing the defending Tour champion. In the end, Meersman crossed the line first to secure a convincing victory ahead of Agnoli and Valverde.

 

 

An early break goes clear

The 159 km stage started and finished in Calella and contained 5 categorized climbs - one in the first category, 4 in the third. The last of those topped out with just 18 km remaining and was followed by a mostly downhill run all the way to the finish line.

 

After a number of unsuccessful attacks, Cristiano Salerno (Cannondale) managed to escape the clutches of the peloton. He was later joined by Cristian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge) to form the day's main escape.

 

The duo managed to build up an advantage of 8.40 before a number of teams started to pick up the pace in the peloton. The first of those was Omega Pharma-Quick Step who saw a great chance for Meersman on today's route.

 

A number of teams start chasing

Vacansoleil with Pim Ligthart decided to join the Belgian team on the front, and gradually more and more teams chose to contribute. Blanco with sprinters Robert Wagner and Jetse Bol and  Astana with Francesco Gavazzi were all seen taking turns at the front, and as Ag2r with Samuel Dumoulin and Cofidis with Stephane Poulhies also made a presence at the head of the peloton the break was doomed. They were brought back at the bottom of the final climb.

 

As usual, Sky put their train on the front to string out the peloton on the climb. Young talent Joshua Edmondson took some huge turns with team leader Wiggins safely tucked in in fourth position. Just at the top Jesus Herrada took over at the front with Valverde on his wheel to make sure that the Movistar captain was well-placed on the descent.

 

Sky attacks on the descent

That turned out to be a good decision. As soon as they crested the summit, Wiggins and Cataldo applied the pressure on the completely strung out peloton. It forced a split, and the 13-man group broke clear. Behind a number of teams took up a desperate chase, but with great collaboration at the front they failed in their attempt to get back.

 

In the end Meersman showed his impressive sprint to power clear of his competitors. The disillusioned peloton crossed the finish line 28 seconds later with a number of pre-race favourites having been dealt a heavy blow by the Sky offensive.

 

With his victory, Meersman is the first leader of the race which continues tomorrow with the 161 km second stage. With a number of laps on a flat circuit at the end of the race, it looks to be one of the few opportunities for the pure sprinters.

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