The less-known Spanish team Relax-Fuenlabrada got the stage victory thanks to "serial escaper" Cesar Garcia Calvo who held off the oncoming peloton and outsprinted break companion Unai Etxebarria to take the second leg (from Zalla to Vitoria-Gasteiz over 183 km). Rabobank's Beat Zberg (Switzerland) ranked third and seemingly kept the Overall lead.
STAGE 2 NARRATIVE:
The 150 riders (every yesterday's finisher but Cofidis' Guido Trentin) got on their bikes at 12h50 in Zalla (Bizkaia province of Spain). Not many kms. into the race, two Lampre-Daikin guys got into spotlight thanks to their attacks: Spain's Juan Manuel Garate, but mainly Italy's Massimo Codol. They made the first, early break of the stage, and were soon joined by J.L. Arrieta (iBanesto.com), J. Rodríguez (Once-Eroski) and J.M. Manzano (Kelme-CB).
But a few kilometres later (eg at the km. 25 mark) Lombard rider Codol, stage winner in Onati in the Y2K edition of the race, got rid of his break companions and started his solo escape. That earned him an Intermediate Sprints victory at Menagarai, 20" ahead of teammate Bertoletti, with Poland's Brozyna (iBanesto.com) taking third, but didn't last for long, as at km. 33 he was caught by the future stage winner, César García Calvo, who just got out of the peloton and managed to bridge the gap to him.
At the 40 km. mark, another Italian rider stole the show to Codol, but not for positive reasons: Fassa's Francesco Casagrande had a brad crash, and after some more kilometres of riding he had to abandon the race. He reportedly suffered a strong blow to his hip and seemingly had a broken rib.
At the km. 47 mark the Italo-Spanish duo had a 20" lead on two more escapees: Marcelino García (Team CSC Tiscali) y Sergio Pérez (Relax-Fuenlabrada). The main peloton was 40" down instead. The all-Spanish chasers soon caught the leading duo, and a quartet formed, whose advantage soon went over 7 minutes (7'40" at the km. 69 mark). As César García Calvo started the stage in 64th place, less than 2'50" behind overall leader Beat Zberg, he soon became the race virtual leader on the road.
That forced Zberg's Rabobank teammates to work hard at the front of the peloton, in order to make up for what was looking like too a dangerous amount of lost time.
The breakaway went on through KOM Primes and Intermediate Sprints (Codol was the first in Cat.3 Alto de Zaldiaran, while when riders passed through Vitoria-Gasteiz for the first time, García Calvo used it as a reharsal for its future winning sprint, and took the Hot Spot Prime).
Rabobank's work at the front of the chasing bunch was producing some results, as with 50 kms. to the gap was reduced to 4'22", and it kept narrowing even more quickly in the following part of the stage, as with 35 km.to the finish line, on the steepy climb of Alto de Herrera (gradient going up to 12%) the leading quartet's advantage was hovering at two minutes only.
But on the next descent chasers didn't gain much time, and even breathed for a while, something two riders benefited from. The first was Fuenlabrada's Ricardo Valdez (teammate of García Calvo), who got clear and tried to bridge the gap to the leaders. Not only he couldn't, but was also caught by another later escapee, Esukaltel's Unai Etxebarria, a Basque cyclist riding for Venezuela.Quite surprsingly, with less than 20 km. to go, the leading quartet had a 40" advantage on the chasing duo, but also 2'35" on the main peloton, and consequently Zberg's overall lead was in jeopardy again.
So the peloton started working seriously again, and quickly reduced the gap to 2 minutes, while CSC Tiscali's Marcelino García couldn't follow the leaders wheels any longer, got dropped, caught by the chasers, and dropped by them too.
With 8 km. to the finishing line, Valdez and Etxebarria's dream finally came true, as they joined the leading trio, which turned into a quintet, featuring two Relax-Fuenlabrada guys (very dangerous for their rivals). The chasing bunch was 1 minute down.
The final part of the stage was full of emotions, with the five breakaway men trying to resist and the chasing peloton, led by Rabobank, Gerolsteiner and Mapei steadily gaining time on them. The gap was reduced to 45" at 4 km. from the finish, then Etxebarria attacked and gained some metres, but was soon joined by García Calvo, and the duo, perhaps helped by the several turns marking the last 2 kms. inside Vitoria-Gasteiz, managed to hold off the coming peloton, with the man in red and white (Relax-Fuenlabrada's César García Calvo) denying the crowd favorites (Euskaltel-Euskadi) their first stage victory, as he came around Etxebarria, who perhaps made too an early move in the sprint, and beat him to the finish line.
Beat Zberg, who benefited from the hard work donw by his Rabobank teammates, led the bunch home 6" behind the deserving winner, and retained the Overall Lead.
Wednesday's stage 3 will take riders from the Basque Country's capital city (Vitoria-Gasteiz, that is) to Alsasua, over 170 kms., encompassing 4 KOM primes: Opakua (Cat.1), Urbasa (Cat. 2) and two ascents of La Cadena (Cat. 3). No doubts that this stage two will be covered by the "Daily Peloton" Stay tuned !!
Results - Top Places:
1. César Garcia Calvo (Spain - Relax-Fuenlabrada) -4h58'10";
2. Unai Etxebarria Arana (Venezuela - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - s.t.
3. Beat Zberg (Switzerland - Rabobank) - at 6";
4. Igor Astarloa (Spain -Saeco-Longoni Sport) - s.t.
5. Laurent Dufaux (Swi - Alessio) - s.t.
6. David Etxebarria (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - s.t.
7. Samuel Sanchez(Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - s.t.
8. Cedric Vasseur (Fra - Cofidis) - s.t.
9. Mariano Piccoli (Ita - Lampre-Daikin) - s.t.
10. Nicki Sorensen (Den - CSC-Tsicali) - s.t.
Overall Ranking after Stage 2:
1. Beat Zberg (Swi - Rabobank) 8h31'15"
2. David Etxebarria (Spa - Euskaltel Euskadi) - s.t.
3. Igor Astarloa (Spa - Saeco-Longoni Sport) - s.t.
4. Samuel Sánchez (Spa - Euskaltel-Euskadi) - s.t.
5. Gonzalo Bayarri (Spa - Jazztel-Costa Almería) - s.t.
6. Davide Rebellin (Ita - Gerolsteiner) - s.t.
7. Stefano Garzelli (Ita - Mapei-Quick Step) - s.t.
8. Mario Aerts (BEL - Lotto Adecco) - s.t.
9. Fernando Escartín (Spa - Team Coast) - s.t.
10. Aitor Osa (Spa - iBanesto.com) - s.t.