Bunch Sprint Into Girona Caps off Catalunya Stage Two

Tue 25 Mar 2014

Leigh Howard sprinted to ninth place in Girona on the second stage of Volta Ciclista a Catalunya. Brett Lancaster again provided a strong lead-out, capping off the tireless efforts by the ORICA-GreenEDGE squad on the rain-soaked stage. Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) took his second consecutive victory to extend his overall lead by 14” over Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida). Howard sits in third overall, tied on time with Ferrari, with the mountain stages looming.

“The boys did a fantastic job setting up the lead-out train to do their work in the sprint,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “Everyone did their part today. Unfortunately, I tend to think Leigh just ran out of legs in the end. We’ll carry on to fight another day.”

“The cold was a major factor for everyone today,” Stephens added. “It was cold and wet. The boys where shivering, and their legs were sore and tired. When the race started to get really aggressive toward the end, I said to them: ‘I know you’re cold and wet. Everyone else is cold and wet, too. Now is the time that we need to switch it on.’ – and they did. They rose to challenge and tackled the task at hand. We might not have gotten the result we wanted in the end, but I tend to think the team did a pretty good job today.”

Six riders animated the early action with Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Michel Koch (Cannondale), Jérôme Baugnies (Wanty – Groupe Gobert) and CCC Polsat Polkowice teammates Tomasz Marczynski and Marek Rutkiewicz breaking away from the bunch. The strength of the group posed a threat to several teams with an interest in a field sprint. ORICA-GreenEDGE sent the ever-reliable Christian Meier to the front to set a tempo that kept the escapees in check.

“There was a bit of firepower in the break,” said Stephens. “Right from the start, we committed to chase the breakaway. Giant did, too. We worked together to keep them close and bring them back.”

Baugnies was the first to attempt to jump clear of his breakmates, but it was Voeckler’s counter-attempt that proved successful. The wily Frenchman seized an opportunity to make a solo bid for glory, building up his advantage to just over a minute ahead of the penultimate uncategorized climb. Ten kilometres from the finish, Voeckler maintained 50” over the chasing peloton.

“There was a little bit of a concern with Voeckler alone off the front in the last couple of kilometres,” admitted Stephens. “Christian was still on the front chasing at that point. Eventually, they were able to pull him back.”

Teams looking for a result in the sprint and teams protecting overall contenders vied for position at the front of the bunch on the technical run-in towards the line. The peloton managed to avoid incidents over wet roads and through the round-abouts that led to the flamme rouge.

ORICA-GreenEDGE kept the pace high and steady in the final kilometre with Lancaster putting Howard in prime position to open the sprint. Swinging off Lancaster’s wheel, Howard looked as if he would hold his pace to the line until he faded in the final metres. Mezgec perfectly timed his sprint to take the win.

“Leigh will get another chance on stage six,” said Stephens. “We hit the hills tomorrow, and the climbers will have some opportunities in the next couple of stages.”

ORICA-GreenEDGE will start stage three one man down. A knee injury forced Simon Clarke to withdraw mid-stage. Clarke had inteneded to be ORICA-GreenEDGE’s man for the mountains

“We’re going to have to do a bit of a reshuffle with our plans for tomorrow,” said Stephens. “We had planned to ride for Clarkey, and that’s going to change. This means another rider is going to get an opportunity in the next few stages.”