PONTEVEDRA, Spain (AP) — Nicolas Roche of Ireland won the second stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday, while Vincenzo Nibali took the red overall leader's jersey as the Italian aims for his second grand tour of the year.
SaxoBank-Tinkoff rider Roche broke away with three others on the final climb and used a furious finish to claim the 178-kilometer (110-mile) ride, which started in Pontevedra and finished at the Alto Do Monte Da Groba summit.
"Today has been a magnificent day for me," Roche said. "This morning I said that I was highly motivated. I knew it would be a good day for me. I hope to continue having strong performances." Roche completed the stage in 4 hours, 37 minutes, 9 seconds. Daniel Moreno of Katusha was two seconds behind Roche, followed by AG2R La Mondiale rider Domenico Pozzovivo six seconds back in third.
The first of 13 mountain stages didn't produce major differences between the race favorites — 2009 winner Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez ended 12 seconds off the pace. Nibali crossed the finish line 14 seconds behind Roche, but maintained his advantage over his rivals from the opening stage team time trial.
Giro d'Italia winner Nibali leads Valverde by 27 seconds and Rodriguez by 57. "Everything went perfect today," said Nibali, who took the leader's jersey from Astana teammate Janez Brajkovic after both finished the first stage with the same time.
Nibali, however, was cautious about looking ahead to Sept. 15 when the grueling three-week race finishes in Madrid. "This Vuelta is very hard," he said. "It's very long, day after day, but we have begun in good conditions."
After a final flat stretch along the picturesque northwestern coast, the stage entered a category one climb that took its toll on several riders, including 2008 Olympic gold medalist Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi.
"The first mountain stages are always tough, but the race little by little puts everyone in their place," Rodriguez said. Monday's third stage stays in the region of Galicia for a hilly 172-kilometer (107-mile) ride from Vigo to Vilagarcia de Arousa.