Nicolas Roche takes leader’s red jersey at Vuelta a España
Irish rider enjoys brilliant ride to finish second on stage two in Spain
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche of Sunweb celebrates on the podium wearing the overall leader’s red jersey after the second stage of the Vuelta from Benidorm to Calpe. Photograph: Javier Lizon/EPA
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche had a storming ride on day two of the Vuelta a España on Sunday, going on the attack in the finale, netting second on the stage to Calpe and grabbing the race leader’s red jersey.
The team Sunweb rider was prominent in the tough stage finish, going clear with five big name riders with approximately 20 kilometres to go. He combined with former Vuelta winners Nairo Quintana and Fabio Aru, past Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran, double Tour de France stage winner Primoz Roglic and the 2016 Giro d’Italia King of the Mountains Mikel Nieve to fend off the chase behind.
The sextet worked well together to eke out a lead of 34 seconds with five kilometres left before Quintana then made his move with three kilometres remaining, launching a big attack. Roche set off in pursuit but Uran and then Roglic and Aru got back up to him, causing the chase to stall.
Roche and Uran had started the day five and seven seconds respectively off the race lead and, with time bonuses up for grabs at the finish, marked each other closely. This was enough for Quintana to hit the line first, while Roche outsprinted Roglic, Uran and Aru to take second and, with it, the race leader’s jersey.
“It is an amazing feeling,” he said. “It is six years now since I had the leader’s jersey. I had an amazing day [then]. I only kept it for a day before, so to be back today in a leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour is . . . I’m speechless.
“This morning, the way I saw this race is that we would arrive with a 25-, 30-man group in the sprint and probably riders like [Philippe] Gilbert would be there for the jersey. Then when the group was reduced in the last 20 kilometres, it did come to my mind. I thought if I am in a good breakaway or do a good sprint, I could maybe get some bonus [seconds] and go in red, but until 20 kilometres to go I never thought about it.”
Roche ended the stage two seconds clear of Quintana in the overall standings, leading the race again having done so for the first time six years ago. Uran is third, eight seconds back. Overnight race leader Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) finished in the chase group 37 seconds back and slipped to fifth overall.
Ireland’s other rider in the race, Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe), had hoped to fight for the stage win but the final hour was much tougher than expected. He lost contact with the lead group just inside 30 kilometres to go, finishing well back, but will try again when the Vuelta continues on Monday.
The undulating 188-kilometre race to Alicante should be more suited to his talents, and he will be aiming for stage victory in his debut in the Grand Tour race.
As for Roche, he will savour the moment and hopes to keep the jersey for as long as possible. He said that team’s stated goals heading into the race were to ride for the Dutchman Wilco Kelderman. “I think today I showed that I have the legs to give me a shot too,” he said. “But I am not going to get over-excited. I think we need to stick with the plan. I will enjoy these days riding in red, and I will keep my mind on other opportunities.”
VUELTA A ESPAÑA, SPAIN (WORLDTOUR)
Stage 2, Benidorm to Calpe: 1 Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) 199.6 kilometres in 5 hours 11 mins 17 secs; 2 N Roche (Team Sunweb) at 5 secs, 3 P Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma), 4 R Uran (EF Education First), 5 F Aru (UAE Team Emirates) all same time, 6 M Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) at 8 secs.
Other Irish: 158 S Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) at 17 mins 48 secs.
Intermediate sprint, Moraira km. 168.4: 1 Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) 4 pts; 2 Z Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 2, 3 P Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma) 1.
Mountain primes – Puerto De Confrides, km. 37.1: 1 Angel Madrazo Ruiz (Burgos-BH) 5 pts, 2 S Armee (Lotto Soudal) 3, 3 J Lastra Martinez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) 1.
Alto De Benilloba, km. 54.2: 1 Angel Madrazo Ruiz (Burgos-BH) 3 pts, 2 J Lastra Martinez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) 2, 3 S Armee (Lotto Soudal) 1.
Alto Puig Llorenca, km. 174.8: 1 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) 5 pts, 20 P Latour (AG2R La Mondiale) 3, 3 G Bennett (Team Jumbo-Visma) 1.
Young riders: 1 Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Equipo Euskadi) 5 hours 11 mins 54 secs, 2 T Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), 3 A Aranburu Deba (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
Teams: 1 Movistar Team, 15 hours 36 mins 11 secs, 2 Team Sunweb at 5 secs, 3 EF Education First, same time.
General classification: 1 Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) 5 hours 26 mins 12 secs, 2 N Quintana (Movistar Team) at 2 secs, 3 R Uran (EF Education First) at 8 secs, 4 M Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) at 22 secs, 5 M Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) at 33 secs, 6 P Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma) at 36 secs.
Other Irish: 154 S Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) at 17 mins 57 secs.
Points classification: 1 Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) 25 pts, 2 N Roche (Team Sunweb) 20, 3 P Roglic (Team Jumbo-Visma) 17.
Mountains classification: 1 Angel Madrazo Ruiz (Burgos-BH) 8 pts, 2 A Valverde (Movistar Team) 5, 3 S Armee (Lotto Soudal) 4.
Young riders classification: 1 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) 5 hours 26 mins 45 secs, 2 S Andres Higuita Garcia (Equipo Euskadi) at 7 secs, 3 A Aranburu Deba (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) at 37 secs.
Teams classification: 1 Team Sunweb, 15 hours 51 mins 12 secs, 2 EF Education First, at 2 secs, 3 Movistar Team, at 6 secs.