SAN FERNANDO, Spain (AP) — Nacer Bouhanni of France sprinted to victory in the second stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday, while Alejandro Valverde claimed the red leader’s jersey after a ride that didn’t produce any changes among the race favorites.
In a Vuelta designed to favor climbers, the flat finish was one of the few chances for the sprinters to shine after the peloton picked up the pace during the route’s final kilometers along the blue waters and sunny beaches of Spain’s southern coast.
Bouhanni was launched by a FDJ.fr teammate and had time to ease up as he crossed the line a bike-length ahead of the pack, finishing the 174.4-kilometer (108.3-mile) ride from Algeciras to San Fernando in 4 hours, 1 minute, 30 seconds.
Bouhanni also won three stages at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Valverde took the leader’s jersey from Movistar teammate Jonathan Castroviejo after they won the opening team time trial on Saturday. Giro winner Nairo Quintana is second on the same time as his teammate Valverde.
Two-time winner Alberto Contador stayed 19 seconds behind the Movistar cyclists. Chris Froome was 27 seconds back, and Joaquim Rodriguez remained 38 seconds behind.
Valverde said he hadn’t expected to take the leader’s jersey after entering the stage on the same time as Castroviejo and his other teammates.
“I was heading for the bus when someone asked what I was doing and told me that I was the new leader,” said Valverde. “We still need to talk about how we will handle the stage tomorrow, whether we’ll try to hold on to the lead or let it go.”
Valverde said there was no unhealthy competition with Quintana for his team’s leading role.
“He is my teammate, and my teammate is riding very strong,” Valverde said. “The team has to be above me.”
Monday’s third stage will have a unique start, with the stage beginning from the deck of the aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I. The hilly 197.8-kilometer (122.9-mile) route from Cadiz to Arcos de la Frontera features four category-three climbs.
The race ends in Santiago de Compostela on Sept. 14.