Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) timed his escape to perfection on the second descent of the Alto de Arkale and time-trialled the final ten kilometres to solo across the line and record his second victory in three years in the Clasica San Sebastian. His seventh win of arguably his best season and some consolation for his bad karma in the London Olympics. He dedicated the win, as always, to his deceased brother. LuisLe also picked up the points prize and was adjudged the classiest rider. Fitting given how good he looks in the large black floppy Basque beret sported by the winner.
The thundering herd, seven seconds down, were led home by Milan-San Remo winner Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) who rounded out the podium. Adrian Palomares (Andalucia) won the sprint prize, Tomasz Marczynski (Vacansoleil-DCM) won the mountains prize (presented by Miguel Indurain), Igor Anton was best placed Basque and Gorka Izagirre adjudged most combative rider (both Euskaltel-Euskadi). Most sympathetic rider was Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Rabobank won the team prize and Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan) was given a special prize for six consecutive race appearances. [They're making this up as they go along, right? - Ed]
At the post-race press conference, everyone’s favourite Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) announced that the Clasica had indeed been his last competitive race. He was hanging up his cleats for good this time but had wanted to ride this year to thank his family and friends for their support after his terrible 2011 Tour de France crash and to leave the professional peloton on a high. I think an Olympic gold medal’s a pretty good high!
Flurries of attacks
The sun was shining, the spectators gave everyone a rapturous reception in anticipation of a day of exciting racing and they weren’t disappointed. The riding in the first hour was pretty fast and furious – 45.2kph – fuelled possibly by the enthusiastic support from the road-side or more probably from the desire of many to get into the day’s break. The first one after 8km containing, among others, local boys Xabier Zandio (Sky), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank) and Markel Irizar (RadioShack-Nissan) was pegged back, allowing David De La Fuente (Caja Rural) and Nairo Quintano (Movistar) to join them. This grouping fell foul of the peloton and was pulled back after 19km on the first climb, the Alto de Orio.
Quintano and Zandio gave it another go, to be joined by Adrian Palomares (Andalucia), Jose Sarmiento (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) over the day’s second classified climb, Alto de Garate. The duo of Palomares and Aramendia pushed on alone and they quickly built a lead of almost 11:45 before Katusha took charge of the peloton and started to reel them back in.
Other teams lent a helping hand and by the fourth hour of racing under a scorching sun the average speed was well below 40kph. The duo were taken back on the first ascent of the Alto de Jaizkibel, thickly thronged with fanatical Basque fans. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) broke free of the bunch with future teammate Quintana (Movistar). They were quickly joined by Vacansoleil’s Tomasz Marczynski, but again they couldn’t make it stick. Next to try was Tiziano Dall’Antonio (Liquigas-Cannondale). Marczynski went with him but they were denied by Astana while Movistar neutralised the next move from Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Sergio Paulihno (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
Defining race moves
In truth, no breaks were properly established until Marczynski and teammate Rafa Valls (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gorka Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rafal Majka (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Sergio Henao (Sky) escaped over the top of the Alto de Jaizkibel for the second time with under 40km remaining. Henao then attacked on his own at the summit of the Alto de Arkale but Joaquim Rodriguez and his Katusha team went on the offensive, pulling most of the leading contenders with him. What remained of the peloton caught this group on the descent and it was then that Sanchez, who’d been marking all the moves, saw his opportunity and seized it with both hands while teammate Bauke Mollema hindered the chase.
With Sanchez in full-on time trial mode, he maintained a stable advantage – never much more than ten seconds, but never much less either – while the chasers looked to each other. By the finish his margin of victory was sufficient to allow him to celebrate well before crossing the line to the accolades of the crowd, while behind him Gerrans won the bunch sprint for the honour of taking the second step on the podium. It was certainly a popular win.
While neither Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) nor Chris Froome (Sky) participated in the race, it would be fair to say that their key teammates and their leading contenders for the Vuelta crown are in fine fettle. Indeed all the teams will be heading over to Pamplona this evening for the preliminaries, including Friday’s team presentation. Let battle commence.
What happened to Sammy? He was atypically low-key at the start, making it quite clear that Anton was their protected rider. Work done, he rode back into town before the final circuit. But there’s also good news in that he’s re-signed with the Basque team for a further three years.
1. Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank) 5:55:34
2. Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:07
3. Gianni Meersman (Lotto-Belisol) same time
4. Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Sharo) s/t
5. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) s/t
6. Mauro Santambrogio (BMC) s/t
7. Mads Christensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) s/t
8. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) s/t
9. Xavier Florencio (Katusha) s/t
10. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-ISD) s/t
All images courtesy of Susi Goetze who we’ll be chatting to in our VeloEye Friday Feature.