Young Italian Alessandro Covi attacked early once again on the finish climb in Vuelta a Andalucia stage 2, taking his second professional victory of the young season.
The 151.5 kilometer stage ended with a 3km, 5.9% climb, but the hardest was the last part (600 m, 11.1%), which included a brief 100 metre cobble section. The finish was slightly different from the 2021 edition, where Ethan Hayter won a stage in Alcalá la Real, but still one which suited puncheurs such as Cosnefroy, Serrano and Girmay.
It was a sleepy race until the final kilometres, with the breakaway controlled much more aggressively by Bora-Hansgrohe, Vlaanderen-Baloise and Intermarché than yesterday. There was a crash in the peloton with 27 km to go, but it did not influence the race massively, except for Astana’s leader Miguel Angel Lopez needing a bike change.
The big teams today were patiently waiting for the finish and only assumed position at the front of the group as they approached the finish, with Landa nowhere to be seen but Bahrain bringing Poels and Haig forward with Caruso. INEOS’ young British talent Ben Turner did a great job at the front once again, looking like a fantastic rouleur signing and Luke Rowe 2.0.
The pace was so high that many riders, including Herregodts, were dropped on the shallower section of the climb with 2 km to go.
The action started in the last kilometer where Bahrain-Victorious rider Wout Poels (former winner of Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 2017) attacked, but he did not get far from the peloton, with Narvaez of INEOS closing him down. Bahrain-Victorious have brought to Andalucia a stacked team with GC riders like Mikel Landa, Jack Haig and Damiano Caruso and they can afford to race more aggressively with multiple strong options on these uphill finishes. UAE rider, Alessandro Covi, countered after Poels was caught – he was the fastest from the peloton in stage 1 behind the breakaway, attacking early seems to be his preferred strategy.
Miguel Angel Lopez, the winner of Vuelta a Andalucia 2021, and Gonzalo Serrano tried their hardest to catch Covi. After taking a 90 degree turn, Lopez and Serrano, who were teammates last year at Movistar and both won a stage in this same race in 2021, bumped into each other. Serrano was leading the group through the narrow road and took first position through the corners – opting to ride diagonally to the right side of the road almost closing Lopez into the barriers in slow motion. Superman Lopez had little choice but to throw an elbow into his former teammate, sending Serrano flying the other side of the cobbled road, almost causing Haig to crash who slowed to a stop.
We will never know if Serrano holding up Lopez made the difference, but Covi kicked on strongly as the cobbles ended, with a seated surge over the crest to take an extremely impressive victory after his big effort yesterday and against strong riders like Lopez and Haig.
Five days ago he won a one-day race in Murcia and it looks like this might be a breakout year for the 23-year-old Italian. Lopez finished second, while Serrano was only twelfth after taking an elbow from the Colombian, his teammate Sosa the best Movistar rider in third.
The finish was too hard for puncheurs Biniam Girmay Hailu and Benoit Cosnefroy, who both finished outside of Top 15, but were one of the favorites for the win. Their respective teams Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux and AG2R Citroën were seen at the front of the peloton throughout the day. Girmay in January won a one-day race in Mallorca, beating Giacomo Nizzolo, Michael Matthews and Pascal Ackerman in a bunch sprint on the flat. Perhaps the young Eritrean has focussed more on his sprint in the off-season so he can win races suited to bunch sprinters, and has lost a bit of his uphill punch.
Tomorrow might be an excellent chance for Intermarché to get a win for Girmay as the hilly stage looks more suited to fast finishers that can get over the early climbs like Matteo Trentin, Gonzalo Serrano, and Sep Vanmarcke.