Posted by Editoress on 06/11/15
The Caja Rural team proved that they can climb as well as sprint, taking the top two spots for the second consecutive day, at Stage 2 of the Tour de Beauce, on Thursday. Amets Txurruka, a former WorldTour rider and winner of the Vuelta a Asturias, rode away from defending champion Tom Skujins (Hincapie Racing) to take the stage win and the yellow jersey, with his team mate Pello Bilbao outsprinting Skujins for second. The top Canadian finisher was Ryan Roth (Silber) in ninth, 1:06 down on Txurruka.
The Mont Megantic stage is considered the Queen stage of Beauce, concluding with a five kilometre climb to the finish, and a grade that tops out at 18% in sections. This year, appearing early in the race, it has whittled down the contenders for the overall title substantially.
After severe storms overnight, the riders were greeted with strong winds but no rain. The 169 kilometre stage featured five categorized climbs, culminating in the mountain top finish at over 1000 metres.
The wind made breakaways all but impossible, although the field fractured multiple times on the endless rolling climbs. It wasn't until the halfway mark that three riders broke clear - Guillaume Boivin (Optum), Robin Carpenter (Hincapie) and Jack Bobridge (Team Budget Forklifts).
The break reached a maximum of six minutes, but Caja Rural was monitoring the gap closely, putting five riders on the front to chase it back, including stage 1 winner and yellow jersey wearer Carlos Barbero. Bobridge was dropped with 20 kilometres to go, and the other two stayed away until the base of the Megantic climb before being caught and passed.
A crash in the final turn before the climb dashed the hopes of top Canadian contender Mike Woods (Optum). Woods was second on the stage last year, and second at the Philadelphia Classic last week, so he was a real threat for the podium. However, Optum lost three riders in the crash that took out at least a dozen riders, with Phil Gaimon and Perrick Naud also going down. Woods had possibly the fastest time for the climb, managing an impressive 16th, as he rode up with a ripped jersey and shorts, bleeding on his chest, hands and knees. Woods is a tentative starter for stage three, after getting both hands bandaged, plus stitches to his elbow.
At the front, Skujins and Txurruka attacked the rapidly dwindling front group in the first kilometre of the climb. The pair rode together until one kilometre from the summit, when Txurruka attacked again. While the former Euskaltel Euskadi rider rode away to win by 21 seconds, Bilbao was chasing down Skujins, and beat the Latvian rider on the line in a photo finish.
"I attacked in the final kilometre," Txurruka explained. "I am very comfortable in mountain races and once again the team did a lot of work at the front of the pack. [Barbero] is a sprinter, so he was working for me and [Bilbao]. We were in all the attacks. Tomorrow in the time trial, it will be more difficult for me, I'm not the best in this kind of race."
Txurruka leads Skujins by 19 seconds going into Friday morning's 21 kilometre time trial, with Bilbao at 21 seconds and another Caja Rural rider, Eduard Prades, at 23 seconds. However, Skujins is favoured to put time into his rival, and there could be another lead change after the time trial. Roth, also a strong time trialist, could move up with a good ride, as could Rob Britton (Team Smartstop), who is at 1:38.
[Note: We have interviews with Ryan Roth, Rob Britton, Bruno Langlois, Amets Txurruka and Tom Skujins below]
Prades holds the Points Jersey with 26 points to 24 for Dion Smith (Hincapie), who is himself in the Best Young Rider Jersey. Mauricio Ortega (Orgullo Antioqueno) retains the Climber's Jersey with 26 points to Boivin's and Txurruka's 25.