George Bennett has stamped his mark as one of the contenders at the Vuelta a Espana.

It's early days, of course, but Bennett has surged to fifth place on stage two this morning, finishing three seconds behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde in a finish notable for the absence of many of the race favourites.

Granted, some of those favourites were by reputation only. Richie Porte (who lost 13 minutes) and Vincenzo Nibali (four minutes) are both still suffering the after-effects of crashes at the Tour de France, but of more interest was the performance of some of the other big names.

Ilnur Zakarin, who finished third last year but has had a mediocre 2018, lost one minute, while perhaps most interestingly, Miguel Angel Lopez couldn't keep the pace, losing 19 seconds.

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Not overwhelming losses, sure, but surprising nonetheless considering what the riders battled today was merely a taste of what's to come. This morning's finale was more of a hill than a climb, but on a hot day, the 7.1 kilometre uphill at a 2.8 per cent average gradient proved too much to handle for many.

The steady uphill saw riders drift out the back one by one, before only getting serious with 1.4 kilometres to go, at which point the gradient rose to 6.4 per cent for a kilometre before evening out. It was on that rise where attacks finally came, with Laurens De Plus going off the front, but eventually Valverde brought him back, before outsprinting Michal Kwiatkowski for the stage victory.

The punchy pair finished three seconds ahead of the next group, of which Bennett was a prominent member. He crossed the line just behind former teammate Wilco Kelderman, and was quickly followed by all the other remaining contenders. Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana and Thibaut Pinot were all there, while Simon Yates finished a further five seconds behind.

The promising result moves Bennett up 53 places into 18th overall, 45 seconds behind new leader Kwiatkowski. There's unlikely to be much deviation in that ranking tomorrow, with a hilly stage ending on a flat section, where there shouldn't be too many major gaps amongst the general classification contenders.

Still, that's what was written about today's stage, and while the usual caveats apply - Better to be in great form on stage 20 rather than stage 2 - Bennett's strong finish can only be read as a positive sign as the Vuelta starts claiming victims.