Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) stormed to an inspired victory on Stage 2 of La Vuelta a Espana in what was a thrilling sprint in front of a raucous crowd in Utrecht.
The in-form Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Deceuninck) was tipped by many to edge the final sprint, but it was Bennett who prevailed in a desperate burst to the line as the Irishman took a very memorable win.
Mads Pedersen took second place for Trek-Segafredo, while Merlier had to settle for third place to round out the podium after what was a wild finish to the day's racing.
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Following Jumbo-Visma's utterly dominant triumph in the team time trial on Friday evening, journeyman Robert Gesink proudly sported the red jersey on the punchy, flat 175.1km blast from a breezy 's-Hertogenbosch.
Strange tactics from Alpecin–Deceuninck ensured the peloton drifted unpredictably for much of the day's racing through the Dutch countryside before the seemingly interminable preparation for the final sprint.
It was a day of little drama until the entertaining climax in Utrecht where the jubilant fans created an atmosphere to savour for the riders, but the pace set was both gruelling and relentless.
Merlier appeared to be in the perfect position from which to launch a decisive sprint to the finish, but Bennett managed to seal the victory with some brilliant timing and placement when it really mattered.

'Sam Bennett is back!' - Watch thrilling sprint finish to Stage 2 of La Vuelta

The 31-year-old Irishman found his top form when he needed it for an emotional statement victory after he was left out of the Tour de France last season and endured a challenging return at Bora-Hansgrohe.
"Danny didn't deliver me; he launched me," Bennett said in his post-race interview.
"He brought me up with speed, then he was kind of ready for me to jump, but I waited a second and I didn't know if I'd let my speed drop too much, and I was nervous I wouldn't get on top of the speed again.
"It's nice. I knew I'd do it [win a stage at a Grand Tour] again, it was just a matter of getting the right legs. What I'm really happy about is continuing my pattern of winning at least one stage in every Grand Tour I've done since 2018."

'The boys did a fantastic job' - Bennett delighted with Stage 2 sprint victory

In the general classification, Gesink's glorious stint in the red jersey came to an end with his Jumbo-Visma team-mate Mike Teunissen taking over having finished in fourth place, just outside the podium places.
Again it was Jumbo-Visma able to celebrate being in early control of the race following their team time trial heroics on Friday, but the day certainly still belonged to Bennett.
Sunday's racing sees the riders negotiate another stage for the sprinters as a 193.2km route around Breda awaits before La Vuelta says goodbye to the Netherlands.

'Phenomenal' - Reaction to Bennett sealing 'brilliant' Stage 2 sprint win

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