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Merlier sprints to 1st ever stage win, Ganna keeps Giro d’Italia lead

104th Giro d'Italia 2021 - Stage 2

NOVARA, ITALY - MAY 09: Tim Merlier of Belgium and Team Alpecin-Fenix, Dylan Groenewegen of Netherlands and Team Jumbo - Visma, Giacomo Nizzolo of Italy and Team Qhubeka Assos & Elia Viviani of Italy and Team Cofidis sprint at arrival during the 104th Giro d’Italia 2021, Stage 2 a 179km stage from Stupinigi (Nichelino) to Novara / @girodiitalia / #Giro / #UCIworldtour / on May 09, 2021 in Novara, Italy. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

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NOVARA, Italy -- Belgian cyclist Tim Merlier won a bunch sprint at the end of the second stage of the Giro d’Italia to claim his first ever Grand Tour stage victory, while Filippo Ganna retained the leader’s pink jersey.

Merlier, who rides for Alpecin-Fenix, launched his sprint with 200 meters remaining of the mainly flat 179-kilometer (111-mile) route from Stupinigi to Novara and managed to edge out the Italian duo of Giacomo Nizzolo and Elia Viviani.

The 28-year-old Merlier lifted his hands above his head in the shape of a “W” at the finish in tribute to Wouter Weylandt, on the 10th anniversary of the day the Belgian cyclist died while racing at the Giro in 2011.

“I paid tribute to Wouter Weylandt on the line. I knew him from the Schelde peloton,” Merlier said. “I knew he was a good sprinter. I was in a training camp in the Ardennes 10 years ago at the time, it was a very emotional day.

“Today’s sprint was very hectic ... I’ve done nice sprints before but this one is my best victory so far”.

Ganna, who won the opening stage time trial, managed to slightly extend his lead in the overall standings after earning a three-second time bonus in the intermediate sprint. The Ineos Grenadiers rider is 13 seconds ahead of Italian compatriot Edoardo Affini and 16 seconds ahead of Tobias Foss of Norway.

“I did the time bonus sprint just to take it away from the others, thinking of the coming days if Egan (Bernal) or Pavel (Sivakov) are fighting for the Maglia Rosa (leader’s pink jersey),” Ganna said.

“I enjoyed hearing the crowd of Piedmont yelling my name today. We know tomorrow is a perfect stage for Peter Sagan.”

Monday’s third stage is a 190-kilometer (118-mile) route from Biella to Canale, with three categorized climbs along the way.

The Giro finishes on May 30 in Milan with an individual time trial.