Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard) caught the leading group on the hop when he attacked on the final climb of the day and held on to take the biggest and most prestigious win of his young career.
This was the 25-year old Frenchman’s first appearance in this race and surely makes up for what he regarded as a disappointing Tour de France. The podium was rounded out by pre-race favourite Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Amstel Gold winner Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff).
In the post-race press conference, Gallopin revealed that Basque team-mate Markel Irizar had spent time the night before talking him through the route and giving him plenty of good advice. He also advised him on how to wear the big black floppy Basque beret, just in case he won. Prophetic advice! So the Basques may not have had a home winner but he was at least a home-coached victor!
Zorionak @tonygallopin !! Huge win in the Basque Country!!! Well deserved!!!!!!
— Markel Irizar (@Markelirizar) July 27, 2013
The peloton rolled out of San Sebastian to rapturous applause and headed south along the coast under leaden skies with the prospect of a stormy finish on the cards. A four-man break of Luca Wackermann (Lampre-Merida), Olivier Kaisen (Lotto Belisol), Matthias Krizek (Cannondale) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) was quickly established. After only 60km, the break had built a handy 11min-plus advantage before Movistar started closing the gap 20km later.
Given the very humid conditions, the speed in the peloton in the first three hours was a cautious 42.50kph. After 140km, the gap back to the peloton started to tumble as more Spanish teams and riders asserted themselves and the break headed up the first of two passes of the Alto de Jaizkibel. Four became three as Aramendia was distanced on the climb and slipped over a minute behind. Meanwhile, Egor Silin (Astana) and Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rural) pinged off the front of the peloton and built a small advantage over the bunch leading to the next ascent.
Fast and furious
On the first of two climbs up the Alto de Arkale, the front break was reduced to a duo after Kaisen was dropped and around 20 riders had split off the front of the peloton from which Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Pavel Brut (Katusha) subsequently escaped. They gathered up the remaining escapees and bridged across to the leading duo. The bunch sensed danger in letting Chavanel go too far up the road and the Movistarlets were galvanised to give chase.
Leading men Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana used the Movistar propulsion to launch their own attack and quickly made the junction with the front group of riders, then just rode on by. Adios! This prompted the other race favourites to counter-attack and with around 40km left to race, it was hard to keep a check on who was where and with whom as groups of riders were spread all over the last ascent of the Jaizkibel. However, most of the big names were still in the mix and enjoying the support of at least one team-mate.
Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) attacked over the summit of the Jaizkibel with about 20 riders lined out behind in hot and sweaty pursuit. As forecast, with 50km left to roll, rain had started to spot the race cameras and the clouds had descended. Seven riders including Valverde, youngsters Moreno Moser (Cannondale) and Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard) caught Kreuziger towards the base of the descent. Numbers in the leading group were further swelled as it headed towards the race’s final climb up the Alto de Arkale.
Gallopin attacked early on the climb with Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Nico Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) giving chase, resulting in the leading group splitting into twos and threes on the descent just as the rain began to fall more heavily. With Gallopin heading for home, only five riders gave chase: Kreuziger, Valverde, Roche, Landa and his team-mate Mikel Astarloza.
While the quintet looked to be cooperating, Gallopin stretched his advantage to over 25sec with just 4km to the finish. Landa was dropped from the chasing group, leaving Saxo-Tinkoff with the responsibility for leading the pursuit. But one sensed that Lady Luck was going to smile on the young Frenchman, who was furiously pedalling along the wide flat road to the finish line. Arms aloft, Gallopin crossed the line with time to spare to savour his first victory since 2011.
Perhaps the fact that RadioShack have been freed from financial worries since signing the Trek sponsorship deal has spurred their younger riders on to give impressive performances in the past month – first Jan Bakelants in the Tour de France and today Tony Gallopin.
One might contrast this with the performance of local team Euskaltel. With the very real threat of dissolution and few re-employment prospects, the team are labouring to perform at the expected level, although they can take heart (and points) from three riders finishing in the top 15 overall.
Of course, for many, today’s race will have been a pleasant pit-stop en route to the next lucrative criterium. Gallopin finished second in the recent one in Camors – I predict his appearance money has just gone up!
1. Tony Gallopin (RadioShack-Leopard) 5:39:02
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +00:28
3. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) same time
4. Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
5. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) s/t
6. Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
7. Moreno Moser (Cannondale) s/t
8. Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) s/t
9. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) s/t
10. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) s/t
Mountains Jersey: Luca Wackermann (Lampre-Merida)
Sprints Jersey: Matthias Krizek (Cannondale)
Team Classification: RadioShack-Leopard
Best-placed Basque: Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi)