2017 Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco: Review
Apr 09 2017 06:47 pm CET

2017 Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco: Review
2017 Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco: Review
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VUELTA CICLISTA AL PAIS VASCO

Alejandro Valverde once again delivered an exhibition of strength to claim the victory of the Itzulia, the Tour of the Basque Country. Alberto Contador fell short by 17 seconds and had to conform with the second place, while other riders such as the Slovenian Primoz Roglic and Spanish David de la Cruz animated the race with their ambition and strength.

This year’s Itzulia was criticized even before it began for having a route that was not as hard as in previous editions. Less climbs in the regular stages and a longer ITT on the last day seemed to aim for keeping time differences short until the time trial, and if that was the case the organizers succeeded. The first four stages featured little to no time differences, with the exception of the third stage victory of David de la Cruz.

De la Cruz had already proven to be a competent climber on several occasions, including his stage victory in the 2016 Vuelta when he earned the red leader’s jersey, and his recent stage victory in the last stage of Paris – Nice when he crossed the finish line ahead of Alberto Contador impeding him to take enough bonus seconds to win the race. In the third stage of this year’s Itzulia the Spaniard earned advantage over the peloton on the last climb of the day: the Mendizorrotz, after following an attack of Mikael Cherel, who was soon caught back by the chasers, and delivered a strong climb and a great technical display in the descent.

His time gap was never more than a few seconds but with concentration and determination De la Cruz was able to maintain it, even against the furious chase unleashed by Sky and Cannondale, and take the stage in San Sebastian.

De la Cruz’ victory awoke the hope of a large part of Spanish cycling fans who are now concerned about the generational renovation that Spain needs now that their historical riders such as Valverde and Contador are reaching retirement age. The Quick-Step rider is not exactly a juvenile but he still has some room for development and could try to become the next one-week-races favorite for Spain if he can exploit his full potential.

Another rider that rose to glory in this Itzulia is Slovenian Primoz Roglic. He tried to attack a couple of times on the climb to Mendizorrotz and the LottoNL-Jumbo rider reached a just reward winning the 4th stage in Bilbao after an unexpected and frenetic attack in the last two kilometers of the stage that took by surprise teams that were ready to go for the sprint victory. But the big moment for the Slovenian, who was for many years a professional ski jumper before turning to cycling, was the final time trial. There Roglic could take advantage of the two terrains that are the most favorable to him: climbs and time trial, given that the stage profile featured a long steady climb during the first third of the route. The time Roglic marked at the finish line was insane and only an inspired Alejandro Valverde, winner of the GC, was kind of close of him.

The Movistar leader earned the leader’s jersey in the queen stage of Arrate. This difficult climb was the final one of the 5th stage and the leaders had to take their guns out to gain some time before the challenging time trial. The riders arrived to the start of Arrate with diminished forces after five difficult climbs although that didn’t stop the Movistar squad from increasing the pace and reducing the size of the peloton.

Fewer riders remained in the main group when, with five kilometers to go, the Canadian Michael Woods started the fireworks. His first attack was initially only followed by Valverde and Contador, but step by step other riders such as Woods’ teammate Rigoberto Urán, Samuel Sánchez, Simon Yates, Romain Bardet or Luis Meintjes could join the three in front. It was after this attack that David de la Cruz had to say goodbye to his chances of keeping the leader’s jersey for the final day.

A crash caused by a brief distraction took Samuel Sánchez down in the last kilometer, causing him a broken finger and for other riders such as Contador to miss the wheel of their rivals. Finally the stage and the GC lead went to Valverde, who didn’t hesitate during the last few hundred meters of the queen stage taking the last curve in the first place before crossing the line first.

The time differences were minimal before the final ITT. The first five riders of the GC had the same time, while Alberto Contador, who was sixth, was only three seconds behind. The easier route of this year accomplished its objective and it was the final stage that was to determine the winner of the race.

As said before, Roglic delivered a very strong time trial, and other riders such as Ion Izaguirre and David de la Cruz had good performances as well. But everybody’s attention was on who was going to win the GC. Soon it was clear that Woods, Uran, Bardet and Meintjes were out of the fight when each of them reached the intermediate checkpoint losing significant amount of time not only to Roglic, but also to Contador. The leader of Trek – Segafredo was flying during the first half of the time trial improving the time of Roglic himself in the intermediate point and becoming the virtual winner. Contador fans started to celebrate and many even suspected that Roglic could lose the stage. Then Valverde crossed the intermediate point with 9 seconds more than Contador, making the long-awaited victory of the Trek rider look more than possible.

But the bad luck seems to have a thing for Contador. Not that this time an external factor made him lose his advantage but he started to run low on energy during the final kilometers and finally lost more than 20 seconds to Roglic at the finish line. Valverde on the other hand not only maintained his pace but, confronted with the idea of losing the race, put all his energy into the second half of the stage beating Contador’s time by 14 seconds. That was it, Valverde claimed his first Tour of Basque Country victory ever.

This is being such a wonderful season for Valverde. After his unquestionable supremacy in the Vuelta a Murcia, Andalucía and the Volta a Catalunya, he now adds the Itzulia to his trophy wall, not to mention that he is at his peak of strength. The Movistar leader is 36 years old, an age in which many riders could think about retirement, but the future is as bright as ever for he who is nowadays one of the most important riders in cycling history.

By Marcelo Hernández
Image: Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco logo





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