• Meersman salutes as he beats Schwarzmann and Magnus Cort (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A crash-marred finish in Stage 2 of the Vuelta a Espana saw Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) take his biggest career win, overcoming youngster Michael Schwarzmann (Bora-Argon 18) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-BikeExchange) in the sprint. The leader's jersey also changed hands with Peter Kennaugh handing to over to Michal Kwiatkowski (both Team Sky).
By
Cycling Central

22 Aug 2016 - 10:05 AM  UPDATED 22 Aug 2016 - 1:14 PM

Gianni Meersman has been a very solid sprinter for years now, particularly excelling when the course is a bit too difficult for the pure fast men who have trouble climbing.

The out-of-contract Belgian rider is still yet to secure a contract for next season however and is not an A-list sprinter but he took his opportunity on the flat finish into Baiona to secure the win.

The top sprint stars of the sport were absent with many preferring to hone their form in easier races, like the Tour of Britain, for a sprinter-friendly world championships in Qatar.

“Not having the top sprinters here means things are more difficult to control, because everybody is aware of the fact there is a chance to pull it off. This leads all the time to huge stress and a nervous finale.

The stage finish was a techical one, with the fast pace of the peloton exacerbating the danger of the tricky corners with two crashes which occurred in the last two kilometres.

Escorted by his teammates, 30-year-old Gianni Meersman avoided any trouble and bided his time, starting the sprint from an excellent position, his fast legs and timing proving enough to take his first Grand Tour victory.

“Fortunately, I had the guys with me in the last two kilometers and they did a marvelous job,” said Meersman.“Then with 800 metres to go Stybar was pulling and I still had Yves Lampaert in front of me with 400 metres to go. He started his lead out and with 200 metres to go I launched my sprint. Luckily today, it all worked out exactly as we had planned.

 “I’m not sure exactly how different it is (without the big sprinters) because we’re still going very fast, but I think this Vuelta has opportunities for other guys to go for the stage wins and I took mine today. It was planned out for weeks before. I already had a strategy for today’s stage.”

I want to thank the boys and at the same time to dedicate this victory to my wife and my daughter”, an excited Gianni concluded at the end of the stage which also put him into the sprints jersey.

Ryan Anderson (Direct Energie) and Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) were the ones who crashed in separate incidents in the final kilometres, limping to the finish and receiving bunch time.

There was also a tight battle for the general classification, with Movistar and Team Sky coming in tied on time any bonus seconds taken by the Spanish teams’ members would be enough to overthrow Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) at the top of the leaderboard after only holding a half second advantage after the team time trial.

In the end it was Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) who ended up inheriting the jersey from his team-mate as he sprinted to fourth on the stage.

I was given the oportunity to get the red jersey and it's an incredible feeling," said Kwiatkowski. "It's one of the nicest starts to a race I've ever had - winning the team time trial in a Grand Tour with Team Sky is incredible. I'm really thankful to Pete that he gave me this opportunity to sprint in today's final, and to go for the bonifications and also the red jersey. Thanks to the team for making it possible."

"Two kilometres before the final he asked me if I wanted to sprint and I accepted. He was up there in the mix and he led me out. We were sure that Chris was safe and he was up there in the front of the group and avoided the crash, so there was no risk that he would lose time.

"We knew that Rojas (Movistar) could sprint for bonifications on today's stage and he was one of the guys who could take the red jersey. I was looking at him before the finish but I decided to sprint for it. We didn't want to give the red jersey away for free, as I think we deserve it after such a ride yesterday.

Tomorrow’s stage is almost certain to see a further overall lead change as the finish is atop the brutally steep Mirador de Ezaro. Whilst only 1.8 kilometres long the climb averages a painful 13.8 per cent, with pinches of over 20 per cent.