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The Slovenian is poorly positioned when the sprint is launched but powers down the right-hand side of the road to take a very convincing win ahead of Ferrari and Ratto and extend his overall lead

Photo: Team Giant-Shimano

DANIELE RATTO

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LUKA MEZGEC

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ROBERTO FERRARI

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TEAM SUNWEB

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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25.03.2014 @ 17:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Luka Mezgec has proved that he is by far the fastest sprinter in this year's Volta a Catalunya by adding a second stage win to the one he took 24 hours ago on the opening stage of the Spanish WorldTour race. On a very wet day in Catalonia, he overcame poor positioning in the sprint to power down the right-hand side of the road and open up a massive gap over his nearest rivals, Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) and Daniele Ratto (Cannondale), for a second consecutive stage win and an increased overall lead.

 

Prior to the 2014 season, Luka Mezgec had made it clear to his Giant-Shimano team that his first big objective of the season was to take a stage win in the Volta a Catalunya whose hilly profile suited the versatile sprinter perfectly. After the first two stages of the race, he has already done much more than this as he already has two stage wins in his pocket.

 

After his win in yesterday's opening stage, the Slovenian underlined that he is by far the fastest rider in the race when he took a very superior sprint win in today's second leg of the race. Despite being completely on his own in the finale and so poorly positioned when the sprint was launched, he was in a leaugue of his own when the sprint was launched.

 

As it had been the case yesterday, Orica-GreenEDGE proved their superior lead-out ability in the finale on the wet roads in Girona when Brett Lancaster hit the front just after the passage of the flamme rouge. While the peloton split behind the strong Australian who safely navigated the slick roads in the final roundabout, his sprinter Leigh Howard was perfectly positioned on his wheel.

 

The Australian sprinter allowed Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) to move into second so as not to hit the headwind too early and it was the young Frenchman who launched the sprint down the middle of the road. Behind, Howard quickly realized that he had nothing left in the tank and quickly sat up.

 

Mezgec had been far back in the small 10-rider group that had escaped in the dangerous finale but when he launched his sprint down the right-hand side, the outcome was never in down. He easily passed all his rivals and when Roberto Ferrari narrowly edged ahead of Daniele Ratto just before the line, it was only enough to take a very distant 2nd.

 

Earlier in the stage, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) had animated the racing by going off in an early breakaway before attacking on his own in the finale. At one point, it seemed that the Frenchman would go on to win the stage but an uncategorized hill in the finale ended up being too much for the Frenchman.

 

With his win, Mezgec extended his overall lead and he is now 14 seconds ahead of Ferrari and Howard. However, that is all set to change in tomorrow's first mountain stage that includes an early category 1 climb before taking the riders up the first category HC mountain of the race. The stage ends with a 5km climb to the finish in La Molina but with an average gradient of 6%, it is not an overly difficult one and time gaps between the overall contenders should be limited.

 

One for the sprinters

After yesterday's opening sprint stage, all was set for another showdown between the fast finishers when the Volta a Catalunya continued with a 168km stage from Mataro to Girona. An early category 3 climb and a category 2 ascent at the midpoint were the only categorized challenges but the lumpy finale contained a long gradual uphill drag and a nasty little hill inside the final 10km preceding a downhill run to the finish.

 

The race headed out from the start in Mataro with one non-starter as German veteran Danilo Hondo is no longer in the race. At the start, the weather conditions were nice but it would become a lot worse later in the stage as the second half took place under a torrential downpour.

 

The break goes from the gun

Yesterday it took some time for the early break to be established but as everyone seems to know that this is one for the sprinters, there was no big battle to be part of the action. In fact, the day's break took off already in the opening kilometre when Michel Koch (Cannondale), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty), the CCC duo of Marek Rutkiewicz and Tomasz Marcynski, Maxim Belkov (Katusha), and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) took off.

 

After 6km of racing, the sextet was already 1.30 ahead and when Marczynski beat Rutkiewicz, Voeckler and Baugnies in the sprint at the top of the first climb at the 12.5km mark, they were 2.30 ahead. With a strong break up the road, however, Giant-Shimano was keen not to take any risks and the Dutch team of race leader Luka Mezgec hit the front to stabilize the gap at around 2.30.

 

The gap goes up and down

It reached 2.50 at the 37km mark but after 50km of racing it was down to 2.10. 10km further up the road it was only 1.45 but this prompted the peloton to slow down a bit.

 

When Koch beat Belkov and Rutkiewicz in the special Miguel Poblet sprint at the 65km mark to draw equal with Romain Lemarchand in that classification, the gap was back up to 2.10 and it even reached 2.30. However, the peloton has again accelerated and brought the gap down to 1.20.

 

Marczynski scores points

It was still too early to catch the escapees and the peloton continued to play with them when they allowed the gap to grow back up to more than a minute. Meanwhile, Marczynski beat Belkov and Rutkiewich at the category 2 climb to score another 10 points for the mountains classification.

 

In the peloton, Tom Peterson was doing the work for Giant-Shimano and he had been joined by Christian Meier whose Orica-GreenEDGE team were keen to set up a sprint for Howard. While all the major teams made sure to stay safe near the front in the slick conditions, the dup combined forces to bring the gap down to just 1.15 with 50km to go.

 

Koch wins the intermediate sprint

Koch used his sprinting skills to beat Baugnies in the final intermediate sprint while Orica-GreenEDGE stopped their chase effort, leaving the work just to Peterson and Ji. With 40km to go, that duo also disappeared from the front as the gap was now down to just 35 seconds.

 

For several kilometres, no team was really leading the chase as it was just a case of the GC team riding on the front to keep their captains safe. Josh Edmondson and Danny Pate did a lot of work for Sky, Jesper Hansen was leading the Tinkoff-Saxo train, Angel Vicioso and Pavel Brutt were up there for Katusha, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step were also a very prominent presence.

 

Voeckler makes his move

With 27km to go, the riders had finished the long gradual uphill drag to the finish of Banyoles and this was the signal for Voeckler to take off. The Frenchman quickly built a gap while Baugnies and Marczynski set off in pursuit.

 

Koch and later also Belkov rejoined the chasers while Rutkiewicz decided to sit up to wait for the peloton. The four chasers worked well together but they kept losing time to the lone Frenchman and with 20km to go, they were 25 seconds behind.

 

Voeckler reopens his gap

In the peloton, there was still no real chase going on and things only got disrupted a bit more when a crash brought down 3 riders. Voeckler had managed to reopen his gap to 1.07 and this prompted Giant-Shimano to react as they put Ji, Warren Barguil and Thomas Damuseau on the front.

 

The trio were joined by Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) but they had difficulty getting close to Voeckler. With 10km to go, he was 45 seconds ahead of his chasers, with the main group being even further back.

 

A confused chase

On the small climbs in the finish, the Giant-Shimano riders had difficulty keeping up the pace as Yates was now doing all the work. Edmondson moved ahead for Team Sky but soon after Giant-Shimano was back on the front.

 

On the final little climb, Branislau Samoilau (CCC) attacked and he dangled a few metres ahead for a little while before being swallowed up by the peloton which was now led by Jens Voigt (Trek).  The chasers had now been caught but with 6km to go, Voeckler was still 30 seconds ahead.

 

Voeckler shakes his head

As they started the descent down to Girona, however, he started to lose time rapidly as Giant-Shimano was now back in control. When he passed the 5km to go banner, he looked back, shook his head and decided to sit up.

 

The descent was very dangerous on the slick roads and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) used it to get a slight gap. However, Giant-Shimano's Johannes Fröhlinger brought it back together and set a fierce pace all the way to the flamme rouge.

 

To stay safe, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) made a small attack and he was the first rider to pass the 1km to go sign. Pieter Serry had a short stint on the front for Omega Pharma-Quick Step but he was quickly passed by Lancaster. The Australian did an excellent job to lead Howard out but the Australian sprinter didn't have the legs and instead Mezgec took another win just 24 hours after the first one.

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