Igor Anton pozik urtebetetzea

Birthday boy (image courtesy of Euskaltel-Euskadi website)

Igor Anton pozik urtebetetzea 29an nahian.

That’s me wishing birthday boy Igor Anton “Happy Birthday” in Basque. Yes the boy from Galdakao in Vizcaya, celebrates his 29th birthday today. So please raise a glass of txakoli and pass around the pintxos to the man nicknamed ‘Fuji’. No, it’s not a comment on his exuberant use of hair gel, it’s a reference to the bike he had as youngster where he racked up 13 victories before passing through the ranks of the Euskaltel feeder squad and into the main team.

Looking back over his results since joining the ‘Carrots’ I’m struck by his consistency. He pretty much wins a big one every year, starting with his maiden win in the Vuelta where he also finished 15th overall. Although the top step of the podium has so far eluded him, most particularly in 2010, when an innocuous touch of wheels with teammate Egoi Martinez on stage 14 took them both out of the race. I can still picture his brave little soldier face as they folded him into the team car, bloodied and torn, holding his broken elbow.

Better memories last year, when he single-handedly rescued his team’s Vuelta by taking the first stage to finish in the Basque country for 33 long years. As he crossed the finish line alone the excitement in the air was palpable, fuelled by the pent-up energy of the orange-clad, cycling mad Basque fans who’d spent many hours in the sweltering heat, waiting and hoping for this moment.

At the start, the stage wound out from Noja in Cantabria, along the coast and into Bilbao where the riders completed two circuits and two ascents of the category two Vivero hill. Basque fans were giddy with excitement – or it could have been alcohol – when they saw two Euskaltel riders in the day’s break of four riders: Anton and Gorka Verdugo.

With 20 kilometres to go there were just two and, encouraged by those rabid fans, Igor shook off Marzio Bruseghin (Movistar) and pushed on, dancing up the length of the Vivero and receiving huge support from the Basque fans lined five-deep on its slopes. Nearing the summit, he had just over two minutes in hand.

Anton ploughed on alone, blasting along at 68kph, laying down his heart and soul on the tarmac in the final stretch. With 6km to go, the Euskaltel car pulled up alongside him and all the occupants shook their fists and screamed encouragement at him. He had 30 seconds on Bruseghin, who was in no man’s land, and still a few minutes over the field. After such a tough start to the Vuelta, failing to perform as he had done in 2010, Igor had to feel vindicated by this magnificent gutsy win, his fourth Vuelta stage victory, and surely the sweetest. Here it is again.

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