Yesterday’s team time trial was a stressful affair for most and many will be breathing a sigh of relief at its completion, but the stresses do not stop there sadly. Stage Two’s 174.4km route from Algeciras to San Fernando appears simple on first viewing of the profile, with the obvious conclusion being one of the few bunch kicks afforded to the sprinters at a Vuelta strewn with mountain top finishes yet again.
Beyond an early (11.2km) Category 3 climb there is barely a lump or bump worth mentioning in the day’s stage as the peloton make their way through Spain’s Atlantic coast. Rather the riders are likely to find themselves fighting the weather instead of the roads, with raging coastal winds more accustomed to attracting windsurfers than cyclists a great possibility. This could mean echelons, which also means stress as the GC teams panic to keep their leaders at the front of affairs – think Valverde’s downfall Le Tour de France 2013. An opening week of a grand tour is always a nervous affair, and by adding echelons caused by strong winds into the mix will only result for an incredibly hectic first road stage; crashes being more than likely.
To state the conclusion of today’s stage is simply a drag race for the few sprinters who have made the trip to Spain would be a lie, even in the last moments life is far from simple for those with eyes on the victory. As unnecessarily technical as the previous day, stage two’s finale offers the sprint teams four 90-degree bends within the last 1.2km, the last of which will need to be navigated with under 500m remaining. Such technicalities to worry about will suit a limited number of sprinters; those with well drilled lead-out trains and individuals who profit from operating in such chaotic finales.
John Degenkolb appears to have the most dedicated group of riders for sprint ambitions and will look to Koen De Kort as his pathfinder to the perfect position to kick from. The finishing straight is not that long however, meaning Degenkolb will not have the distance to attain top speed and hold it as other fade behind him.
His major rival in this respect is Nacer Bouhanni, who had a very successful time at this year’s Giro, walking away with three stages and the points jersey. Despite having nowhere near the same sort of team at his disposal as Degenkolb, Bouhanni is one canny rider with the sort of acceleration which could win such a short sprint upon exiting the afore mentioned tricky corners. Not relying upon a lead-out may benefit him here as he is offered the ability to float amongst the other teams rather than frantically attempting to follow a desired wheel. Considerably better rested than the German and with recent wins under his belt, Stage Two looks to be Bouhanni’s best bet for a win at this year’s Vuelta a España.
An outsider which could raise eyebrows at the finish is Lampre-Merida’s Robert Ferrari, a team which finds itself altering targets due to the unexpected loss of Chris Horner. Ferrari competed well in the Giro d’Italia this year and eventually finished third overall in the points classification; without taking a stage win however. Benefiting from greater team support than usual in the sprints, Ferrari shares similar attributes to that of Bouhanni in terms of acceleration and agility amongst the pack, the finish also plays into his hands at offering the chance for an unexpected win.
1st Bouhanni 2nd Degenkolb 3rd Ferrari