Bouhanni wins the opening stage at Volta a Catalunya

After a frustrating near-miss at Milano-Sanremo on Saturday, Nacer Bouhanni stormed to a stage 1 win Monday at Volta a Catalunya. The Cofidis rider will wear the race’s first leader’s jersey after timing his sprint perfectly in a fast run to the finish in Calella, Spain after 175.8km of racing over five categorized climbs. Sky’s Ben Swift was second, reprising his Sanremo result, while Orica’s Daryl Impey was third.

Bouhanni had dug deep to make it into the 100-rider group that survived the many climbs on the day and he was still there when the riders hit the penultimate climb with 42km to go. At this point, the early break had been caught and it was Movistar setting to pace on the wet roads with Jose Herrada.

Herrada set the pace on the ascent as it started to rain and a few riders rejoined the peloton. He didn’t react when Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) attacked and he got an immediate gap. He crested the summit as the lone leader.

Vervaeke won the final intermediate sprint with 29km to go after which Movistar stopped their effort. As the peloton came to a standstill, the attacking started when Mathias Frank (IAM) took off. He was joined by Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickStep) and later Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Axel Domont (Ag2r) also bridged across.

Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) and Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin) bridged across to the chasers who worked well together as they hit the final climb with 21km to go. At this point, Vervaeke was just 12 seconds ahead and he quickly decided to wait for them.

There was no cooperation in the break and so Frank decided to attack. He failed to get clear and despite his hard tempo, it was impossible to keep the peloton at bay. Sky were setting a brutal pace with Ian Boswell and with 19km to go it was all back together.

Kiryienka led the peloton down the descent and the group had grown to around 100 riders when they hit the flat section with 8km to go. Here the fight for position really intensified but it did not prevent Bjorn Thurau (Wanty) from attacking with 7km to go.

Domont tried to bridge the gap but as they hit another climb with 5km to go, it was Roche who suddenly came flying. The Irishman sprinted past Thurau and the many riders who tried to join him all failed.

Roche pushed his gap out to 12 seconds while the rest of the attackers were brought back and he maintained his advantage as the chase failed to get organized, with Movistar and Tinkoff riding on the front to keep a good position. However, Orica-GreenEDGE soon came to the fore and started to reel the Irishman in.

With 1.5km to go, Tinkoff took over with Pawel Poljanski leading Alberto Contador and they brought Roche back just before the flamme rouge. As they entered the final kilometre, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) hit the front with his sprinter Alexey Tsatevich on his wheel but they were passed by Kiryienka.

The sprint started when Simon Gerrans did the lead-out for his Orica-GreenEDGE teammate Daryl Impey. Cofidis moved up next to him and it was Gerrans sprinting against Bouhanni’s lead-out man Geoffrey Soupe.

Impey finally launched his sprint but was quickly passed by Swift. However, Bouhanni was clearly the fastest when he launched his effort, easily passing the Brit who had to settle for another second place. Impey narrowly held Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) off in the battle for fourth.

With the win, Bouhanni takes the overall lead with a four-second advantage over Swift. He will try to defend his position in tomorrow’s second stage which should be one for the sprinters. There’s an early category 3 climb and a category 1 climb at the midpoint. The final 20km are a long, gradual uphill drag to the finish which is not expected to hurt the fast riders enough to prevent a bunch sprint.

Volta a Catalunya 2016 – stage 1 results (Calella – Calella):

1 Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) 4:28:51
2 Ben Swift (Sky)
3 Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE)
4 Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty – Groupe Gobert)
5 Aleksei Tsatevich (Katusha)
6 Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA)
7 Jordi Simon (Verva ActiveJet)
8 Kévin Reza (FDJ)
9 Eduard Prades (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA)
10 Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin)