2022 Vuelta a España Stage 2 Preview

Hertogenbosch > Utrecht 174.9km

The first of the big sprints, the break doesn’t stand a chance. We have a cat 4 climb to lure some into joining the morning move, with the KOM jersey waiting for them on the podium at the end of the day. 

Weather

Sunny, warm and the wind shouldn’t be a problem.

Finale

Technical, and a little bit dangerous, if you ask me. The approach to Utrecht is fine, most of it takes place on a wide highway, but once the bunch turn left at a roundabout with 4.6km to go, everything changes. The next section of road has lots of street furniture, that will make it impossible to move up the bunch.

There are three corners in quick succession, the final one of these comes with 3.5km to go, and the next kilometre is straight. The problem for those wanting to move up is the road is a normal two-lane affair, it’s not the widest. At the end of this straight the bunch go down an underpass and make a right turn, this is with 2.5km to go. I say that, but it’s impossible to tell from the roadbook. If they don’t go down the underpass, it’s a very dodgy turn at the roundabout instead.

It looks like this moves the peloton onto the bus route, again, it’s a normal two-lane road. The road bends to the right with 1.8km to go, then to the left with 1.4km to go, they should be able to be taken at full speed. The final bend is at 500m to go, then the riders will be able to see the finish. There will be a strong tailwind for the sprint, it’s possible to go long.

It’s one of those finishes where a good, early position is required, due to the width of the roads. Once teams are in position, it’s possible to block the road and frustrate teams who are further back. 

Tactics

Nothing fancy, just try and keep your GC man safe. The battle to control the sprint will start early, expect a very fast pace from 10km to go, everyone will want a good spot for the final 5km. I do worry about the width of the roads, and all the GC and sprint teams fighting for position. As the sprint teams don’t have long trains, they might just let the GC teams control until the final 3km, that’s what I would do anyway.

I expect Alpecin and Bora to boss the finale, but with 3km to go, they have to be careful with the shorter trains swamping them. Whoever is leading the peloton as they go through the underpass, or roundabout, will likely have a great spot for the final sprint. 

The final 5km gives me the fear, it’s a poorly designed finish for a race of this level. The technical nature means everyone wants to be at the front, I hope for a safe finish for all.

Contenders

Tim Merlier – he’s the fastest sprinter in this race, at least on paper, but races don’t happen on paper. Alpecin have a decent looking sprint train for the race, the likes of Meurisse, Taminiaux, Stannard and Vermeersch can all do a good job in the closing stages. They don’t often ride as a sprint train, so they might take a few stages before fully understanding each other. Merlier was 3rd at the Euros, but if he was at his best, he would have won from the position he launched his sprint. He’s not raced a lot in recent months, but he should be improving as he goes. This is just his third season in the pro peloton, and he’s within one win of a hattrick of grand tour stage wins, that’s an amazing achievement. Given his speed, he starts as the favourite. 

Pascal Ackermann – crashed in the Euros, but he says he’s fine. His sprint train is short, he’ll only have Oliveira and Molano for the closing kilometres. This will make it hard for him to start his sprint from the front, but you can still win with such a train, especially as both men are very good at what they do.

Sam Bennett – it’s not been his year, his move back to Bora hasn’t gone to plan. He lines up at the Vuelta looking to take a stage win, and his sprint train is looking strong. He has Koch, Mullen and Danny Van Poppel to guide him in the closing stages, they have shown this year that they work well together. In particular, Danny Van Poppel has excelled this year, he’s the best final man in this race, which gives Bennett a big chance of taking a win.

Mads Pedersen – this is his first Vuelta, I’m looking forward to seeing him race over the next three weeks. He’ll definitely have Hoole and Kirsch to lead him out, which makes a strong unit of 3. His current form is good, I wouldn’t read too much into his 10th place in the Euros. Looking at the finish, it’s one that suits him well, this is a good chance for him.

Kaden Groves – the Aussie is fast, but inconsistent. Too often in sprints he seems to get lost inside the final 2km, I’m not sure if it’s to do with him, or his sprint train. His lead out in this race isn’t particularly strong, I think his positional struggles will continue. 

Gerben Thijssen – he’s only got Johansen and Boy Van Poppel to help, but he’s got a very good relationship with Van Poppel, and he usually gets him in a good position. His recent win in Poland will have given him a huge confidence boost.

Bryan Coquard – he’s got Cimolai to lead him out, but he could find it hard to get a good position for the sprint. Le Coq has 47 wins in his career, but he’s never won a race at world tour level. As we don’t have many of the fastest riders in the world at this race, he’ll sense a chance of getting a win at some point over the next 3 weeks, but I doubt it’s in this stage.

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