Volta ao Algarve stage 2 ended with a bunch sprint on the Alto da Fóia climb of 7.7 km at 6.1%, after the headwind on the climb neutralised attacks from big riders and teams. It seemed that Sergio Higuita would take the victory, but in the last corner the Colombian champion clashed with Tobias Foss, causing both of them to crash. In the end Groupama-FDJ rider David Gaudu was able to take the stage, after teammate Kung had worked hard for him on the climb.
Before the stage, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team lost Tim Declercq, who did not start due to gastrointestinal problems. It was a big loss for the team as Declercq can work all day at the front of a peloton and control a gap to a breakaway. Stage 1 winner and the leader of the race, Fabio Jakobsen took over some of Declercq’s duties on a stage where Evenepoel had won on the same finish back in 2020.
In the middle of the stage there was a crash with the camera not picking up the exact cause. Ion Izagirre and Lars Van Den Berg were the most heavily impacted and both abandoned (a big loss for Cofidis who would have been relying on Izagirre’s GC points here). Thomas Pidcock was also involved, and it took a while before he was back in the peloton.
Everyone was waiting for the final climb. INEOS put their mountain train with Tullett, Thomas, Castroviejo, Van Baarle, Martinez at the front to control the pace on the penultimate Picota climb, but it did not mean that the tempo was high. INEOS had multiple options – fast finishers Ethan Hayter, who won on Alto da Fóia in 2021, and Thomas Pidcock, who is very fast but had just suffered in the crash. Taking into account that Fóia is a shallow climb (7.7 km, 6.1%) and there was a headwind, it was expected that there would not be a high pace or significant time gaps between the favourites.
After INEOS finished the job, Louis Vervaeke paced for some time for his leader, Remco Evenepoel, who would have preferred the climbs done at a higher tempo. At this moment, with three kilometers to go on the final climb, the group was still big, including rouleurs like Connor Swift holding on.
Then the unexpected happened. Küng rode at the front of the peloton for a couple of kilometers giving all that he could offer for his team’s Groupama-FDJ leader David Gaudu. Küng in 2021 won the GC of Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, which was rescheduled in April due to Covid. The big Swiss time trial specialist showed that he can climb well for a big rider on these moderate gradients, but perhaps he has cost himself some later positions in GC, given the 32km time trial later on that he will be a major contender for. After Küng finished his turn with 1.1 km to go, Portuguese conti rider Frederico Figueiredo (Glassdrive Q8 Anicolor) attacked into the headwind. He reminded cycling fans that Portugal is full of climbing talent on a day where W52’s leader Neves struggled.
No one wanted to chase him. Figueiredo lost 3:31 yesterday due to a crash in the peloton, which meant he was not a threat in the GC, but the stage win was up for grabs. INEOS eventually put Dylan van Baarle at the front to ensure that Ethan Hayer still had a chance to win. Figueiredo was caught with 350 meters to go by Martinez, who was leading out Hayter.
The final was chaotic. Young Astana rider Samuele Battistela attacked after INEOS ran out of men to pace, with Brandon McNulty and the other riders following his move to the left which shut down the way for Remco Evenepoel, who had already started to sprint and needed to brake to avoid crashing.
Riders then needed to take a 90 degree turn right before the finish that created a dangerous situation where Sergio Higuita tried to overtake Tobias Foss mid corner and they both crashed (see the picture below). Foss left a lot of space to overtake him on the left side, but Higuita tried to get close as possible to Foss and did not want to go around outside, whilst Foss seemed to drift to his left to make matters worse.
David Gaudu used this opportunity and won the stage. If Higuita had taken a wider line, he probably would have won stage two as he clearly was the fastest in the final meters. Despite his early attack, Battistella finished second, again proving that he can climb well. Last week on the Tour de la Provence queen stage he finished 1:27 behind Nairo Quintana on Montagne de Lure.
Tomorrow there will be a rolling stage for sprinters that ends with a slight uphill rise that improves chances of winning for Ethan Hayter, but Fabio Jakobsen, Alexander Kristoff and Tim Merlier still will be the favorites to take the victory.