For the first time of his short career, Jake Stewart took part in a bunch sprint in a Grand Tour, on Saturday. It actually went pretty well for the 22-year-old Englishman in Utrecht. After a nice lead-out from Miles Scotson and Fabian Lienhard in the last kilometre, following a rather quiet day, the recent stage winner on the Tour de l’Ain took eighth place, a few bike lengths behind winner Sam Bennett. Another opportunity lies ahead tomorrow!

After the opening team time trial, the Vuelta returned to a more usual stage this Saturday around Utrecht. On Dutch soil, 175 kilometres were to be covered and a categorized climb featured on the route. It was located at 71 meters of altitude, with an average slope of 2.5%. Obviously, a massive sprint was therefore expected in this second stage. A breakaway of five men still developed quite early, with Mikel Azparren (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), Thibault Guernalec (Arkéa-Samsic), Pau Miquel (Kern-Pharma) and Julius van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost). However, the peloton led by Alpecin-Fenix ​​never let them a substantial lead. The leading riders remained about two minutes ahead of the pack for most of the day. They were able to compete for the unique climb that was giving “mountains” points, but their adventure ended with about sixty kilometres to go. A little further on, Luis Angel Maté (Euskaltel-Euskadi) made an attack, on his own, and therefore led the race in the last hour of racing. The Spaniard was eventually caught just twenty kilometres from the finish, and the bunch started to feel a bit more stressed. “As far as we’re concerned, we approached this stage calmly, because we have nothing to lose”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “We tried to spend the quietest day possible, because for most of our riders, we don’t need to take risks before reaching Spain. We should rather think about saving energy in order to be the sharpest possible in a few days”.

“We can be proud”, Jake Stewart

That being said, Groupama-FDJ did have some ambitions for the day. “We decided to set up a small group for Jake to go for the sprint”, explained Philippe. After proving quite discreet, Miles Scotson, Fabian Lienhard and Jake Stewart came back up in the last three kilometres to get in the mix. “They did a great job for Jake”, noted Philippe. “It went well until the last kilometre. Unfortunately, a rider blocked Miles at the flamme rouge. It’s a pity because the three of them were in a good position and ready to launch, but it’s part of the sprint”. Jake Stewart eventually got back in the wheel of his rivals with 300 metres to go and was able to sprint to eighth place on the line. “A big bunch sprint like this obviously doesn’t suit me 100%, but we worked well with Fabian and Miles”, underlined the British rider. “We had the door closed on us with less than a kilometre to go when Miles tried to accelerate. We had to fight a bit and go around a few riders, but I think we can be pretty proud of it for the first sprint of this Grand Tour. It’s good. After the Tour de l’Ain, I took a lot of confidence, and if I’m able to do a good sprint like this with the real fast guys, that gives me even more confidence for the harder stages in Spain.” This also makes it a second top-10 in two days for Groupama-FDJ, which is on a good track. “We can see in the bus that the group really gets along well together”, concluded Philippe.

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