Joaquim Rodriguez won two stages and took overall victory in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco with a commanding performance on the last stage, seizing the race leader’s jersey from runner-up Sergio Henao. Local boy Jon Izagirre rounded out the podium.
Rider of the race
There can only be one winner, the effervescent, ever smiling and ever popular Joaquim Rodriguez, whose Katusha team is on fire at the moment, also winning the team prize. Winning is obviously contagious.
Joaquim won two stages, including the queen stage, the points jersey, the overall, most combative and posted a truly heroic time on the final stage to finish runner-up and only four seconds back from stage winner and time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin. Purito overhauled Sergio Henao, who finished runner-up, to seize the leader’s yellow jersey. It was recompense for him being unable, through illness, to defend his title at the Volta a Catalunya and was a masterful performance ahead of the Ardennes classics. In the post-race press conference, Rodriguez said:
I am so happy! After a year without a victory, I have taken three in four days. This is very special to me, but also my good performance in the ITT makes me so happy. I didn’t look on it as a time trial rather I imagined myself on the attack in a normal stage. I took some risks in the descent but stayed fully concentrated. On the climb José Azevedo [his directeur sportif] kept me informed about my advantage over Henao. I really gave everything on that climb, I was riding on the limit, but it worked.
Three things we liked (and one we didn’t)
1. Tension. We love a race where the overall goes to the wire. By the final stage, there were still 14 riders within a minute of the race leader, meaning we were in for an edge-of-our-seats hilly individual time trial around Aia. It didn’t disappoint. Tom Dumoulin triumphed ahead of race winner Rodriguez and third-placed overall Izagirre.
2. Tifosi. It was the Easter holidays, the sun was shining and there was exciting bike racing on tap. The fervent Basque fans need few excuses to colonise the undulating terrain for a party or, as Michael Matthews discovered to his delight on stage four, a pizza picnic! They might save their loudest cheers for the local riders but they encourage everyone as Andrew Talansky found out after a heavy fall on stage three where he collided with some traffic furniture.
If there are any people who will keep you on your bike after a bad crash it is the Basque fans! They truly love the sport.
— Andrew Talansky (@andrewtalansky) April 8, 2015
3. Talent. The cream always rises to the top! The overall was largely contended by those we anticipated would be there or thereabouts. Moreover, it was good to see Sergio Henao in such fine form after what many thought would be a career-ending injury. His right knee, front and back, bears whopping great scars and still balloons post-race. They obviously breed them tough in Colombia.
The surprise packages were best young rider Simon Yates, mature beyond his years, who finished a commendable fifth overall, including third on the queen stage, confirming his promise of last year. Perhaps less well-known is Rodriguez’s young ninth-placed teammate Ilnur Zakarin. There were noteworthy performances too from Trek’s stage two winner Fabio Felline, who finished sixth in the individual time trial, and Lotto-Soudal’s neo-pro Louis Vervaeke who scooped the metas volantes (sprint) jersey.
A number of riders also used this race to hone their form ahead of the Ardennes classics, such as Michal Kwiatkowski, Philippe Gilbert, Rui Costa, Thibaut Pinot, Samuel Sanchez, Lieuwe Westra, Bauke Mollema and Tony Gallopin. Expect fireworks in those races.
On a personal note, it was good to see fellow Cote d’Azur resident Rein Taaramae looking back to his best. The move to Astana has revitalised him.
4. Traffic cones. What on earth were the organisers thinking? These types of hazards are wholly unacceptable, particularly on a downhill run-in to the finish line!
Understandably, the riders protested in the only way they could.
— Alessandro Tegner (@AleTegner) 7 Avril 2015
Speedy recovery to those that fell or were felled during the race.
The race in numbers
2 – Previous race winners taking part: Nairo Quintana (2013) and Samuel Sanchez (2012).
6 – Career Pais Vasco stages won by 2015 race winner Joaquim Rodriguez.
13 – Unlucky for some! Race number 13, Samu Sanchez, finished in 13th place.
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 21:49:38
2. Sergio Henao (Sky) +0:13
3. Jon Izagirre (Movistar) +0:29
4. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:38
5. Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0:46
6. Michele Scarponi (Astana) +1:06
7. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) + 1:14
8. Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step) +1:15
9. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) +1:25
10. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +1:33
Link: Official race website
All images: Richard Whatley