Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2017: Valverde smashes it

Nail-biting tension was maintained until the end of the final stage individual time trial in this year’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Race leader Alejandro Valverde crossed the line after a typically ballsy effort to finish second on the stage to Primoz Roglic and, more importantly, increased his cushion over runner-up Alberto Contador to take his first Pais Vasco title. Local rider Ion Izagirre (and his bonny baby) rounded out the podium to the delight of Basque fans.

Rider of the Race

Alejandro Valverde is having a stunning start to 2017 season, with wins already in Volta a Catalunya and Ruta del Sol. Runner-up in Pais Vasco 2006, he finally stood atop the podium today – his ninth start in the race. The 36-year-old Spaniard held a slender three-second advantage over defending champion Alberto Contador at the start of the final stage, having taken his 11th victory of the season (107th overall) with his queen stage win atop Arrate, mirroring his victory in 2012’s Vuelta a Espana. That slender margin waxed and waned throughout the final stage as Bala sought to maintain his advantage over Contador, who elected for a potentially costly bike change after the climb.

Post-race, Valverde said:

It’s been a long time coming, I’ve been wanting to win and fighting to win Itzulia for many years. I’ve always been close, but this year it seems like I’m on a roll and getting it finally leaves a very, very special taste in the mouth. …

Even I’m surprised how the season is going. Every year I always say at this point that it has been my best start, but in this case there can be no doubt: it is my best start ever. With everything I’ve won I go to the classics with tremendous tranquility. If I win any … I do not need to ride any more for the whole year! (Laughs) 

Fresh faces!

Joy of joys, there was much to rejoice with plenty of young pros catching our eye. First up is seventh overall, Austrian Patrick Konrad, one of Bora-hansgrohe’s GC riders. He’s a third-year pro who’s shown steady progression in stage races after exciting much interest as an under-23 rider. Last year he was fifth overall in Giro del Trentino (now re-named Tour des Alpes).

Then we have Spaniard Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors), pictured below, a first year neo-pro who finished 14th overall and Best Young Rider. A former junior national time trial champion, Masstarted his cycling career with Fundacion Contador Team and has since racked up victories in Volta ao Alentejo and Tour de Savoie Mont-Blanc.

Then 19th overall, we find second year neo-pro, Sunweb’s Sam Oomen, runner-up in Best Young Rider category. With wins in Rhones-Alpes Isere Tour, Tour de L’Ain and Paris-Tours Espoirs in his palmares, he was adjudged best Dutch talent 2016.

Spirit of giving

A more social media savvy team have taken over responsibility for the event, which for the first time ever linked the four Basque capitals: Pamplona, ​​Vitoria-Gasteiz, Donostia-San Sebastian and Bilbao. In addition, the organisers supported Zaporeak, a project that is working to feed refugees in Greece, with the collection and sale of food and merchandise on the finish line, followed by a pintxopote with food donated by the local hotels and restaurants.

Safety issues

Riders like Steve Cummings (Dimension Data), Darwin Atapuma (UAE-Emirates) and Dani Navarro (Cofidis), all DNF after stage 4, might argue that the race was plagued with issues similar to those which felled Peter Stetina a couple of editions ago, namely fixed metal posts, this time in the centre of the road. Simply attaching plastic tape to the posts is wholly insufficient – they need to be completely removed. The riders suffered a variety of injuries that are bound to affect their preparation for forthcoming races, particularly the grand tours. The posts caused other GC riders to crash, including Rudy Molard (FDJ), who subsequently struggled with his injuries on stage 5, and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo).

I also have to mention the inexplicable crash of Samu Sanchez (BMC) just 800m from the finish line in Arrate where he’s won many times in the past. In his 15th and last appearance (will someone pass me a tissue?), he sustained multiple superficial injuries with extensive abrasions all over the body, including his hands, which ultimately prevented him from starting the final stage.

Final results

1  Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 20:41:25

2  Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) +0:17

3  Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) +0:21

4  David de la Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) +0:44

5  Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:59

Jerseys

Points Jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

King of the Mountains Jersey: Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac)

Intermediate Sprints Jersey: Lluis Mas (Caja-Rural)

Best Young Rider: Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors)

Team Classification Leader: Bahrain Merida

Stage winners

Stage 1: Michael Matthews (Sunweb)

Stage 2: Michael Albasini (Orica-Scott)

Stage 3: David de la Cruz (Quick-Step Floors)

Stage 4: Primoz Roglic (Lotto NL-Jumbo)

Stage 5: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)

Stage 6: Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo)

Official race websiteTwitter #itzulia and Facebook

Header image: Alejandro Valverde; ©GETTY IMAGES / AFP / Cesar Manso

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