Astana Pro Team rider Valerio Agnoli finished second on Monday in the opening stage of the Volta A Catalunya, sprinting to a podium spot from a late breakaway that started before the final climb into a flat finish on the Meditterranean coast.
Agnoli, from Italy, was not supposed to be there. His job for the day was to help pull back a two-man escape along with teammate Alexandr Dyachenko and set up a finish for designated sprinter Andrea Guardini. But a powerful and unexpected surge 20km from the finish in Caella created an unreachable gap for the peloton behind.
“Sky was protecting their riders after a small crash, and they got away with two or three other really important guys before anybody could react,” Agnoli said.
Agnoli, by virtue of his day’s work at the front, found himself the lone Astana rider in the lead group of more than one dozen riders, as top contenders in the expected general classification were all there and determined to find a time advantage in this mostly flat stage that would benefit them later in the week when the race goes into the mountains.
“Wiggins, Rodriguez, Gesink, Valverde – these riders can all win in the mountains. Bravo to Agnoli for sticking in with them and playing his cards smartly with second place today,” said Astana Pro Team Director Sportif Dimitri Sedoun.
Gianni Meersman of Belgium won the final sprint head of Agnoli, and now takes the overall lead in this seven-stage race through northeast Spain.
“Meersman had a lot more speed than I did in the final 200m, but I’m happy with a podium. The team has placed a lot of confidence in me this year, and I would have liked to pay them back with a victory. After Tirreno-Adriatico last week I feel good and will look forward to another day in Spain and another chance tomorrow,” agnoli said.