Tim Merlier handed Alpecin-Fenix victory on the first road stage of their Grand Tour debut as he took the honours on the second day of the Giro d’Italia.
The Belgian had the power to hold off Italian pair Giacomo Nizzolo and Elia Viviani at the end of the 179km stage from Stupinigi to Novara.
It was a record 10th second place in a Giro stage for Team Qhubeka-ASSOS’ Nizzolo, who has never won a stage of his home Grand Tour despite twice winning the points classification.
The sprint finish meant there were only minimal changes in the early general classification standings as set in Saturday’s opening time trial, with Filippo Ganna retaining the pink jersey for the Ineos Grenadiers.
The Italian stretched his advantage slightly to 13 seconds from Jumbo-Visma’s Edoardo Affini as he picked up three bonus seconds in the intermediate sprint.
Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Remco Evenepoel edged ahead of team-mate Joao Almeida to move up to fourth, 20 seconds down, with a group of pink jersey hopefuls including Egan Bernal, Simon Yates and Vincenzo Nibali still bunched together with deficits of a little over 40 seconds.
With only three riders joining the early breakaway, Sunday’s stage was raced at a slow pace until it came back together with 25km to go and preparations began for a technical sprint, punctuated by a tight roundabout on the approach to the line.
Merlier launched his sprint early but nobody could find a way around the 28-year-old.
“I’m really happy, and really proud of it,” he said of the win. “The roundabout was really important but I saw we were in a good position. My only thought was ‘faster, faster, faster’. It was far to go from 250m but in the end it was enough.”
Dylan Groenewegen, racing for the first time since serving a nine-month ban following last year’s controversial crash at the Tour of Poland which left Fabio Jakobsen in a coma, finished fourth for Jumbo-Visma just behind Cofidis’ Viviani.
“The feeling after a really long time is OK,” the Dutchman said. “Taking fourth place in the first sprint after nine months, I need to be happy, but I’m a winner, I always want more.
“The legs are really perfect so I’m looking forward to the next sprints.”
The race continues with a 190km stage from Biella to Canale on Monday.