Vuelta al Pais Vasco review: Colombian cheer

Vuelta al Pais Vasco logoIn a surprising turn of events Nairo Quintana took the overall, having won stage four atop Eibar-Arrate and finished runner-up in the concluding time trial. The 23-year-old wrested the leader’s and points jerseys from fellow Colombian Sergio Henao, with Tasmanian Richie Porte sandwiched in between. Local boy Amets Txurruka claimed the King of the Mountains and sprint jerseys while Movistar were the best team.

Final GC podium (l to r) Porte, Quintana, Henao (image: Richard Whatley)

Final GC podium (l to r) Porte, Quintana, Henao (image: Richard Whatley)

Race summary

Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) took his third victory of the season, winning the first stage’s reduced bunch sprint ahead of Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Angel Vicioso (Katusha) after the peloton had been split by a crash near the summit on the final ascent, just 7km from the finish.  Some of the leading contenders fell, were delayed or distanced on the fast, technical descent where Alberto Contador’s (Saxo-Tinkoff) aggression further split the leading group with 17, including many of the favourites, going clear in the last 5km. The two-man break of the day, Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) and Laurent Didier (RadioShack-Leopard), had both been pulled back into the bunch well before the last climb.

Simon Gerrans wins stage 1

Simon Gerrans, victor on stage 1 (image: Richard Whatley)

There was a sense of deja vu on stage two as South Africa’s Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) repeated his feat of last year, taking the bunch sprint ahead of Astana’s Francesco Gavazzi (who had the consolation of taking over the leader’s jersey), with Vicioso third again. Txurruka was once more out front for most of the day hoovering up the mountain and sprint points. Orica-GreenEDGE kept the gap to a manageable distance, before Lampre-Merida’s Adriano Malori and RadioShack’s evergreen Jens Voigt time-trialled away from the bunch with around 30km remaining, catching Txurruka on the penultimate descent. But all the escapees were back in the pack with 4km to go and it just remained for Orica – specifically race leader Gerrans – to lead Impey to the finishing line.

That man Impey's won the second stage two years in a row!

That man Impey wins the second stage for the second year in a row! (image: Richard Whatley)

Sergio Henao (Sky) was the strongest in the Colombian shoot-out on stage three’s 167.7km stage to the top of the 7.4km climb La Lajana – technical and wickedly steep in parts – which left many slumped over their handlebars, exhausted. In a scene straight from Groundhog Day, that man Txurruka was out in the break again. The Astana-led peloton wisely didn’t allow them too much leeway and everyone was safely back in the bunch well before the final trial of strength. Movistar moved to the head of the peloton to set up their Colombian, Nairo Quintana, who eventually finished fourth. Ultimately it was Henao and baby-faced Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) who went mano a mano all the way to the line, with the former shading it in a photo-finish. Katusha’s Giampaolo Caruso was third. Henao’s victory saw him take the leader’s and points jerseys while Txurruka’s three straight breakaway days saw him build an unassailable lead in the sprint and mountain competitions.

In the battle of the Colombians, Henao just shades it over Betancur (image: Richard Whatley)

In the battle of the Colombians, Henao just shades it over Betancur (image: Richard Whatley)

The following day was the turn of 23-year-old Quintana to take victory, as he soloed away from the leading group in the final 100 metres or so on the downhill dip to the finish, gaining two seconds on Henao and third-placed Contador. To the delight of the public who had braved freezing fog and pouring rain, a final spurt from Samu Sanchez moved him up the GC.

The day started with a dangerous trio including Andy Schleck (RadioShack) making an unsuccessful bid for freedom, with the main break established only after 46km of the 151,6km road to Eibar-Arrate. The Sky-led peloton never allowed the gap to grow much beyond five minutes, slowly reeling them in as they wound their way up and around Eibar. With under 40km to go, the break and the chasing pack fractured all over the first category Basque-lined Isua climb. Having regrouped on the descent, Sky slowly whittled down the gap and, at the foot of the ultimate climb, conceded responsibility for leadership to Movistar. In-form winner of the GP Miguel Indurain Simon Spilak (Katusha) led the charge only to be joined by the other contenders who matched one another up the climb until Quintana rode away.

He's getting the hang of those bottles! Nairo Quinata (Movistar) winner of stage 4

He’s getting the hang of those bottles! Nairo Quintana (Movistar) wins stage 4 (image: Richard Whatley)

On the penultimate day’s ten-climb test Richie Porte (Sky) clearly hadn’t read the script, as he disappointed the large Basque crowd who’d braved pouring rain, hail and near freezing conditions, by jumping away in the dying kilometres to overhaul defending champion Sanchez, who finished second, four seconds back, along with third-placed race leader Henao and most of the other contenders. The 166.1km route from Eibar to Beasain was punctuated with attacks which saw groups of riders spread all over the parcours and riders climbing off their bikes each time the pack came through the finish town – only 73 finished the stage!

However, Sky were always pulling the strings and anyone still in contention was in the leading bunch heading for the final ascent. Sanchez crested the summit first, pursued by the Sky boys and Spilak but sadly Samu failed to record his team’s first win of the season. None of the jerseys changed hands but only that of the leader still hung in the balance with Porte six seconds behind teammate Henao but four seconds ahead of Contador.

That wasn’t the only surprise of the day, though:

That's the look of a determined man! Four seconds ained for Richie Porte

That’s the look of a determined man! Four precious seconds gained for Richie Porte (image: Richard Whatley)

In the final day’s challenging 24km time trial, world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) set the winning time of 35:05 early on. Overall favourite Porte was 40 seconds slower and, surprisingly, finished fourth behind Quintana – proving Colombians can time trial on hilly terrain – with Basque Benat Inxausti (Movistar) third.

Stage six winner Tony Martin, wearing the rainbow jersey of the reigning world TT champion (image: Richard Whatley)

Stage six winner Tony Martin, wearing the rainbow jersey of the reigning world TT champion (image: Richard Whatley)

Afterwards Quintana declared:

I’m super happy with this overall victory and time trial result, where I performed better than I expected. I’ve been feeling good these past few days and again today I had such a good feeling that I had to take advantage. It was a short time trial which favoured me and I managed my efforts well. It was quite slippery and I took risks on the descents. In fact, I almost fell on one occasion, but on the last descent I knew I’d done enough and could relax.

Analysis & opinion

Last year we proclaimed Colombians the must-have accessory in the mountains for those challenging in the Grand Tours. This year they’re the key piece in the season’s wardrobe. Messrs Betancur, Henao and overall winner Quintana, despite their youth and relative inexperience, have proved they can challenge the best over a difficult parcours, whatever the conditions, and deserve their plaudits.

Of course, Sky, Movistar and Ag2r won’t be the only teams leaving with smiles on their faces. Orica-GreenEDGE bagged two stage wins, spent two days in the leader’s jersey and Pieter Weening finished sixth overall. I suspect that both Saxo-Tinkoff and Euskaltel-Euskadi will be satisfied with the overall progress of their respective leaders given their forthcoming Grand Tour challenges.

Basque sensibilities were spared by Amets Txurruka who monopolised the mountains classification jersey and, ironically, the Euskaltel-sponsored orange sprint jersey earning plenty of press coverage and cheer for his new squad Caja Rural after being dropped at the end of last year by Euskaltel. Best placed Basque overall was Movistar’s Benat Intxausti in eighth – another former Euskaltel rider.

A number of teams such as BMC used the race to fine-tune form for the forthcoming Ardennes classics. Despite the high attrition rate, most teams finished with at least one rider, except Argos-Shimano who I suspect simply ran out of clean kit! On a final note, it was good to see Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) back in action after his serious fall last year.


1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 21:39:35

2. Richie Porte (Sky) +0:23

3. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:34

4. Simon Spilak (Katusha) +0:35

5. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:54

6. Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:18

7. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:19

8. Benat Intxausti (Movistar) +1:57

9. Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) +2:47

10, John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale) +2:56

Links: PreviewOfficial website

The Musette: Banana-coconut cake

One of my staple – and most popular – cakes for cycling club events is Nigella Lawson’s banana bread taken from her book How to be a Domestic Goddess. It’s moist, freezes well and slices easily. So when one of my professional cycling friends asked me to bring cake for him and his teammates a couple of years ago at the Vuelta a Espana, I immediately thought of banana bread but had to discard said recipe on account of the high fat content and rum-soaked raisins. Continue reading

Paris-Roubaix preview

Paris-Roubaix logoThis weekend is a race that evokes more powerful images than any other on the WorldTour calendar. It is, of course, that old war of attrition, Paris-Roubaix. Running for 250km across industrial northern France, it takes in 27 sections of cobbles which quickly sort the men from the boys – or, perhaps more fittingly, sorts Fabian Cancellara from everyone else. After his win at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, who can beat the Swiss to the velodrome in Roubaix?

What kind of race is it?

It isn’t nicknamed ‘the Hell of the North’ for nothing. The most brutal pavé race in professional cycling, crossing the finish line at all is an extraordinary achievement for a cyclist. Last year only 86 of the 196 finishers reached the Roubaix velodrome, having fought their way through historic battlefields in a war of their own, across terrain so rough it seems impossible to ride a bike over at all.

Tornado Tom whipped up a marvellous breakaway victory to take his fourth Paris-Roubaix

Tornado Tom whipped up a marvellous breakaway victory to take his fourth Paris-Roubaix last year

It is a race for the strong men, but the strongest doesn’t always win. Not only does brute strength play a part, but riding technique and strategy are crucial, as well as luck – with this latter possibly more pertinent than in any other race. With the pavé multiplying the risks of crashes and punctures, races can be lost in an instant. Fortunately this year the weather forecast suggests the cobbles should stay dry, though come the 27th cobbled section on Sunday this will be of little comfort for the battered riders.

Winners in the last five years:

2008: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)

2009: Tom Boonen (Quick Step)

2010: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)

2011: Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Cervelo)

2012: Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

What happened last year?

Tom Boonen made up for the absence of Fabian Cancellara by emulating the Swiss powerhouse on his way to his fourth Paris-Roubaix win. With 55km remaining he found himself alone at the front of the race, having quickly cracked everyone else with an attack. It was a brave move and it seemed like he had gone too early with other favourites massing in a group behind. But he wasn’t reeled in, taking advantage of the hesitations and divisions amongst the others to come across the line over 1½ minutes up on Sebastien Turgot and Alessandro Ballan.

1. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 5:55:22

2. Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) +1:39

3. Alessandro Ballan (BMC) same time

4. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) s/t

5. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t

6. Lars Boom (Rabobank) +1:43

7. Matteo Tosatto (Saxo Bank) +3:31

8. Mathew Hayman (Sky) s/t

9. Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) s/t

10. Maarten Wynants (Rabobank) s/t.

Click here for our full review of last year’s race.

This year’s race

The 27 sections of cobbles – which are counted in descending order from 27 (the first cobbled section, 98.5km in) to 1 (the last) – are all given ratings, with one star being the least difficult and five the most. There are three five-star sections on this year’s parcours, starting with the famously brutal Trouée d’Arenberg after 158km, followed by Mons-en-Pévèle just under 50km later and the Carrefour de l’Arbre after 236.5km.

There are some adjustments for this year’s edition, with one of them being the shifting of the Trouée d’Arenberg section 14km earlier in the parcours than it was last year, possibly meaning the big favourites may make their moves a little earlier too. Another change is the reintroduction of the Hornaing section just over 10km after the riders pass through the Trouée d’Arenberg, with it being the longest section of them all at 3.7km.

Paris-Roubaix 2013 profile

A cut-out and keep guide of all the cobbled sections and their difficulty rating

A cut-out-and-keep guide of all the cobbled sections and their difficulty rating

Who to watch

Spartacus (image courtesy of RadioShack-Leopard)

Spartacus (image: RadioShack-Leopard)

With Tom Boonen‘s spring classics campaign over after a fall at the Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend, there is one man so strong it is his race to lose. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) won the Belgian classic in his typically dominating fashion, and there’s not much to suggest he won’t do the same here. He did crash at Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs, as well as when out reconnoitring the Paris-Roubaix route, though he has only sustained minor injuries. Let’s just hope the falls aren’t omens for Sunday!

Unfortunately Cancellara’s nearest competitor over the classics campaign so far, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) won’t race Paris-Roubaix, leaving it up to other riders to try and challenge the Swiss. After picking up a podium behind Cancellara and Sagan at the Ronde, Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen Roelandts will be hoping for a good result, and has to be considered one of the best of the rest.

In the absence of Boonen, Omega Pharma-Quick Step will leave their leadership up to Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, who demonstrated his cobbled prowess with a top ten finish in this race in 2009. He finished in the peloton just outside the top ten in this season’s Ronde, though with the team fully focused on the former French national champion, he will be hoping for better.

Heinrich Haussler (image courtesy of IAM Cycling)

Heinrich Haussler (image: IAM)

IAM’s Heinrich Haussler seems to be finally showing something like his best form after years of disappointment, and he’ll be podium-hunting again after a sixth-place finish at the Ronde. Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) who picked up second place here last year will ride again, while 2011 winner Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil) and a so far subdued Pippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) will be looking to cause an upset.

FDJ’s Mathieu Ladagnous and Yoann Offredo look in good form, while BMC duo of Taylor Phinney and Thor Hushovd have the talent – if not the shape – to be riding near the front. Sky are bringing a strong outfit, with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard all capable on the classics terrain, though it’s unlikely that any of the trio will be challenging for the victory.

Paris-Roubaix is Sunday 7th April. Live coverage will be shown on Eurosport. For other options check

Link: Official website