Daniel Moreno (Katusha) surged at just the right moment on the final testing climb [Sheree would know, she rode up it twice – Ed] to the Basilica del Puy to claim his second victory of the season in yesterday’s GP Miguel Indurain, in Estella, Navarra in northern Spain. Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was two seconds back in second while Angel Madrazo (Movistar) rounded out the podium some seven seconds back.
The 179.3km race started in the town’s Plaza de los Fueros, under a gloriously blue sky, watched by every man, woman, child and dog from the town and surrounding area. The event is well-organised by the local cycling club CC Estella and the Spaniards have a happy knack of turning any gathering into a fiesta.
As the riders signed on and were introduced to the crowd, everyone was given a warm welcome whether they were Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), 2011 Vuelta a Espana winner Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar) or a less well-known rider. But clearly most were awaiting the arrival of last year’s winner. Glistening from the amount of gold on his person, his helmet, shoes and bike, he finally rode into view. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) then patiently had his photo taken with what seemed like every local child.
The event was started by the man himself Miguel Indurain, voted Spain’s greatest athlete of the 20th century. No mean feat in a land where their love of football and motorsport is legend.
Having departed the charming and historic town of Estella (which dates back to 1090), the race followed a number of circuits around the surrounding countryside passing each time back through the town – where the race also concluded – so that there was plenty of opportunity to see the race unfold, even if there was no television coverage.
We elected to ride one of the circuits and catch the peloton on the road a couple of times. As anticipated there was an early breakaway of riders from the small teams – Jose Cano (Andalucia), Haritz Orbe (Orbea), David Belda (Burgos) and Julian Sanchez (Caja Rural) – who built up a significant lead on the first circuit of some 7-8 minutes by my calculations.
With no television coverage, you might wonder why they bothered. Well, there are prizes for the most aggressive rider, winner of the mountains classification, the ‘hot sprints’ and, of course, my favourite ‘most elegant rider’. A number of these tend to picked up by those in the breakaways ensuring that their moments of fame are enshrined in a cup and a handful of Euros.
The peloton had an orange arrow-head, as the Euskaltel-Euskadi team of defending champion Samu Sachez led the chase, with others content to let them expend their effort, though after a while Katusha lent them a helping hand. Due to budgetary constraints the field had been reduced to eleven teams of ten riders apiece. The gap was reduced to manageable proportions (3-4 minutes) by the end of the second circuit.
The breakaway was finally neutralised with 38km remaining and that opened the way for further attacks which were also brought back. But with 3km to go a group of about 12 riders were able to gain a decent gap going into the final climb. Garmin-Barracuda’s delightfully wacky Dave Zabriskie was leading the final charge. Moreno managed to bridge across to this group but, anticipating a sprint for the line, he took everyone by surprise with his surge and went clear to take the win. Afterwards he confirmed that this and the Vuelta al Pais Vasco which starts tomorrow (Monday) are important targets for his Katusha team.
As the riders finished they were set upon by a flock of locusts, the kids from the local cycling club who were trophy hunting their bidons. I almost lost my own Astana bidon to the rapacious hands of a dark-eyed tot until he realised I wasn’t one of the pros. However, it was great to see so many youngsters enjoying and being inspired by a thrilling day’s racing.
Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was adjudged the ‘most elegant’ rider, teammate Egoi Martinez was the best placed Navarran, Katusha won the team prize. King of the Mountains and most aggressive rider was Julian Sanchez (Caja Rural), Jose Cano (Andalucia) picked up the ‘hot sprints’ prize, while fellow escapee Haritz Orbe won the ‘special sprints’.
One sensed that this was a race where the leaders of the ProTeams were content to let one of their key lieutenants have his day in the sun in return for efforts to be expended on their behalf in future races, such as this week’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The race unfolded pretty much as one might have anticipated. The only thing missing from the script was the identity of the ProTeam which would provide the winner. As a consequence, it’s hard to determine the form of, say, Dan Martin (Garmin-Barracuda), Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), or Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar). All one can say is that they’re in similarly good form and were guarding their forces.
1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 4:54:34
2. Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:02
3. Angel Madrazo (Movistar) +0:07
4. Rui Costa (Movistar) same time
5. Dominik Nerz (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:09
6. Sergio Paulinho (Saxo Bank) +0:14
7. Daniel Petrov (Caja Rural) +0:17
8. Damiano Caruso (Liquigas-Cannondale) +0:23
9. David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) s/t
10. Eduard Vorganoff (Katusha) s/t