Julian Alaphilippe pips Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert retains lead – VeloNews.com

Julian Alaphilippe pips Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert retains lead – VeloNews.com

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World champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) pipped an all-star podium to win Thursday’s hard-fought second stage at Tirreno-Adriatico.

In a thrilling finale, Alaphilippe jumped with 350m to go to come around Deceuninck-Quick-Step teammate João Almeida, who attacked out of a breakaway in the final kilometer.

“I was just focused to keep my position. It was a perfect situation for us,” Alaphilippe said. “I was focused on what was happening behind me. In the end, everybody was on the limit. When I saw João, I went full-gas. This makes me very happy. The team believed in me today, and I am happy to give the team this victory.”

Alaphilippe crossed the line with arms spread wide just ahead of Mathieu van der Poel (Alepcin-Fenix), with overnight leader Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and 2020 Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) rounding out the all-star top-4.

Almeida attacked at the red kite from a four-rider breakaway that gelled with about 25km to go, but the GC bunch powered in the closing kilometers to set up the reduced bunch sprint.

Alaphilippe jumped early out of the lead bunch to reel in his Portuguese teammate, and fended off a late-charging van der Poel to reverse the finishing order from Strade Bianche. Van Aert came across third to retain the overall lead.

Early break duly reeled

Thursday’s 202km second stage from Camaiore to Chiusdino rolled southeast away from the Italian coast, with a rollercoaster profile in the second half of the stage. Though there was only one rated mountain — Poggio alla Croce at 168km — the course undulated in the final two hours of racing.

Overnight leader Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), the surprising winner of Wednesday’s opening-stage in a bunch sprint, said the team previewed portions of the stage, indicating how hight the stakes are among the GC contenders.

“We had a look at it after Strade Bianche, so I think we prepared well, but the last 50km suits for a hard race, some attacks, so we need to be ready,” van Aert said at the start. “I’m confident that I can survive this kind of climbs. I think this finish suits me, it’s a climb but it’s not too steep, so it will be powerful sprint.”

Six riders pulled clear early, including Simone Velasco (Gazprom), Simon Pellaud (Androni-Sidermec), Marcus Burghardt (Bora-Hansgrohe), John Archibald and Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) and Pieter Vanspeybrouck (Intermarché).

Late move spices up finale

Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), making his season debut this week following a bout with COVID-19, lost contact with about 45km to go. The Slovakian superstar is still riding into top form, and hopes to be at his peak during the upcoming spring classics.

The break dangled off the front at about 30 seconds as the bunch powered the first major climbs of the day, and was duly reeled in under pressure from the lead group.

Things immediately spiced up, with Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) darting off the front with 35km to go. A series of searing accelerations quickly splintered the bunch as Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Soudal) joined Bernal at the front.

Groups reformed, with Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) trying to bridge across before a new counter-attack that included defending champion Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange), João Almeida (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) and Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers). The quartet carved out a 15-second gap with just under 30km to go.

It was a tug of war all the way to the finish, with Almeida fighting with everything he had in the last kilometer.

What’s on tap

The “Race of the Two Seas” continues Friday with the 219km third stage from Monticiano to Gualdo Tadino. The route features only one rated climb — the Poggio della Croce (4.4km at 7.5%) at 135km — but there’s rarely a flat stretch of road across the entire profile.

The sprinters will have their work cut out for them, but a rising finish should see the fastest in the bunch have a run for victory.

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