Alejandro Valverde crested the final climb at the head of a trio of riders, biding his time before sprinting away in the last few kilometres to solo across the line and record his second victory in this race.
Don’t rain on my parade
The race may have started under leaden skies but the sun soon broke through the clouds to shine on a fascinating and unpredictable race. An early seven-man break was quickly snuffed out only for Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) to slip away. He was allowed an advantage of just under seven minutes before Movistar, Ag2r La Mondiale and Europcar combined forces to reel him back in with just under 60km remaining on the second ascent of the Jaizkibel. But that was enough to secure him the prize for the longest break and warm the cockles of Basque hearts.
Meanwhile, two notable early race abandons were former winner Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Movistar took control of the peloton and forced the pace up the climb, stringing out the bunch and shelling riders out of the back. Local boy David Lopez (Sky) was next to chance his arm, launching his attack near the summit of the Jaizkibel, much to the delight of the Basque crowd picnicking on its slopes. He was soon joined by Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE), BMC-bound Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) and Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r La Mondiale). The foursome worked hard together to distance the much reduced chasing pack. Four became seven before the final ascent of the Arkale when Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) and Alberto Losada (Katusha) joined the party. But the break failed to build any real advantage.
It was gruppo compatto on the penultimate climb prompting a flurry of unsuccessful attempts to break free as the peloton headed back into town and onto the new final circuit.
Predictably the winning attack was launched on the final climb of the Bordako Tontorra. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) launched his attack first, quickly followed by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and later joined by Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Mikel Nieve (Sky) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE). These five flew down the descent, with Yates hot on Valverde’s heels until he made a mistake on a corner and his challenge came to an end. This left a gap for the eventual winner Valverde, and he didn’t look back. He soloed his way to the finish line with time to spare over runner-up Mollema, who bested third-placed Rodriguez in the sprint for the line. Of course, with Valverde’s sprinting abilities, there was only going to be one winner. If the crowds couldn’t have a Basque winner a Spaniard would do nicely!
Plus ça change
Changes to the traditional parcours meant the victorious move was launched on the final climb but victory fell to a former winner who was joined on the podium by riders who have previous form in this race. All three raced the Tour de France with varying degrees of success and Valverde and Rodriguez will square up later in the month in the Vuelta a Espana.
The organisers are obviously keen to ensure Spain retains it’s only one-day WorldTour race, which only two years ago was struggling to find adequate sponsorship.
I applaud the organisers for the myriad changes to this year’s race which included not only the finishing urban circuit to better showcase San Sebastian’s many charms, but also the new website. I am also pleased to report they retained previous years’ positives such as the excellent press room buffet and free WiFi.
Today’s race celebrated the 24th anniversary since Miguel Indurain last won the event in 1990, the last Basque (Navarran) winner of the race. Miguel’s pretty much omnipresent at races in the Basque country and not so long ago was voted most popular Spanish sportsman. Not a bad accolade in a land with so many sporting heroes!
Race in numbers
10 – Number of races won by Alejandro Valverde this year, although this was his first in an international race since Fleche Wallonne in April.
5 – Number of relatives who congratulated Valverde on the podium.
7 – Consecutive editions of this event won by someone coming out of the Tour de France.
6 – A record six years have elapsed between Valverde’s two victories in this race. The previous record gap between wins was five years: Marino Lejarreta won the first two editions in 1981 and 1982, then won again in 1987.
1 – Aside from Valverde, one other rider finished in the top ten in both the 2008 and 2014 races. Trek’s Haimar Zubeldia was ninth in 2008, seventh today.
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 5:31:11
2. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +0:14
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) same time
4. Mikel Nieve (Sky) s/t
5. Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) +0:26
6. Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) s/t
8. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) +0:40
9. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) s/t
10. Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:43