Marcel Kittel of Giant-Shimano has won Stage 2 of the 2014 Giro d'Italia in Belfast, becoming the latest member of an exclusive club of riders to have won stages in all three of cycling's Grand Tours. The German timed his charge for the line perfectly after the peloton safely negotiated a nasty left-hand bend 400 metres out. Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ.fr was second with Giacomo Nizzolo of Trek Factory Racing third. Orica-GreenEdge's Michael Matthews takes over the race lead from team mate Svein Tuft.
It was a wet and windy day in Northern Ireland as the race headed north from Belfast to the County Antrim coast and the Giant's Causeway, before swinging back round to head back towards the capital, but the weather did not deter big crowds from turning out again, many sporting the race's signature pink.
Today's 219km route had two categorised climbs, and one of the members of the day's four-man break, Belkin's Maarten Tjallingi, led over both to put himself into the blue jersey as leader of the mountains classification.
Also in the break were Jeffry Romero of Colombia, Lotto Belisol's Sander Armee, and the Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo rider Andrea Fedi, who took maximum points at the day's intermediate sprint, which came at the foot of the descent from that final climb with 16.9km together.
Going into the final 10 kilometres, the escapees' lead was cut to less than a minute and while Tjallingi attacked to try and stay clear, the catch was inevitable and was made with 3.5 kilometres left as the sprinters' teams ratcheted up the pace ahead of the finish, with Cannondale particularly active in bringing him back, working for Elia Viviani.
It was the pre-stage favourite, Kittel - also favourite to win the red points jersey, this year changed to a format that favours the sprinters more than in previous years - who prevailed, however.
"I am so happy with how it worked out today, and to get the Giro off to a great start for not only me but the whole team," Kittel said afterwards.
"The finish went quite well considering it was pretty hard to get a lead-out going on the technical run-in. The guys set me up in position and even though I was a bit isolated I managed to come round the others in the last few hundred metres," the 25-year-old continued.
"This was our target, getting the Giro off to the best start possible on the flat sprint stages here in Ireland and to re-pay the team here for their confidence and hard work is a great feeling.
"I have prepared really well for this race with a lot of specific sprint training followed by a hard week in Romandie which even though I didn't manage to contest the sprints it was still good for the conditioning. It has got me in good shape for the start of the Giro here and it is good to make the most of this."
He added: "Tomorrow is another day and another stage but we don't have the lead to defend so there is no immediate pressure, however we will be looking to carry on from where we finished today and to keep challenging here at the Giro."
With Orica-GreenEdge winning the opening team time trial, Matthews, eighth today in the lead group of 20 riders that had a 3 second gap at the line on the rest of the peloton, takes over the pink jersey from team mate Tuft, who had led the team across the line yesterday, his 37th birthday.
“We came here with a team for the TTT, a discipline we are very good at," said Matthews. "The plan was always to give Svein the pink jersey for all the hard work he does, and then for me to try to get the pink jersey and keep it as long as possible.
"You never know - things can easily go wrong - but we performed well in the team time trial yesterday and put a big gap into the teams behind us, and we’ll definitely do everything we can to defend it. I think we can keep the Maglia Rosa for a week.
“I won the Under-23 World Champion’s jersey in Australia in front of my own crowd, and to wear this pink jersey now, in my first Giro d’Italia, is pretty incredible," he continued. "It’s a dream come true.”
Looking ahead to the potential sprint battles in the forthcoming stages, Matthews insisted that Kittel "is definitely the fastest guy in the bunch. Whether it’s warm or cold, he’ll be there in the sprints.
"I’ll try to be around him, try and run 2nd or 3rd to him each time, and conserve energy for Stages 5 and 6, which are the ones that best suit me. They are my real goals for the Giro this year,” he concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.