Itzulia Basque Country 2019: Ion Izagirre ends a Basque drought

A Basque rider hasn’t won this stage race since 2003, but Ion Izagirre took his chances today, handily supported by his Astana team, and took the final prize. Izagirre was part of an audacious five-man group, all with podium ambitions, that got away 65kms from the finish in today’s final stage, managing to sufficiently distance Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe) in yellow and maintain its advantage to the line. While the stage was won by Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Izagirre, greatly assisted by teammate Jakob Fuglsang, finished a single second back in fourth place but with enough of a margin to take the overall from Dan Martin (UAE Emirates), second on the stage and second overall. After some misdirection at the finish and much confusion, over an hour after the race had finished, former race leader Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe) rounded out the podium (but Fuglsang got the Cava celebration).

Rider(s) of the Race

Given the number of withdrawals this week, this award could have gone to the last man standing. Instead, it is shared by two BORA-hansgrohe riders. Firstly Maximillian Schachmann, a triple stage winner (stages 1, 3 and 4) who surprised and delighted us all with his gritty, no-nonsense performance, holding the leader’s, points and best young rider jerseys with equal aplomb until he narrowly lost yellow to teammate and compatriot Emanuel Buchmann on Friday’s queen stage. He slipped further down the GC on Saturday trying to help Buchmann retain the leader’s jersey, and consequently also lost the best young rider jersey. This 25-year-old Berliner has been steadily building his palmares. A gifted time-triallist who’s performed well at the world championships, last year Max won a stage in the Giro d’Italia and this year he’s landed the GP Industria & Artigiano, a stage in Volta a Catalunya and his three stages and final points jersey here. He has most definitely arrived.

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You’ll be unsurprised to learn that the other joint-holder of the award is Emanuel Buchmann. Fourth overall last year, this week he was catapulted from 6th to the leader’s jersey on Friday’s queen stage to Arrate after attacking at the foot of the final ascent and soloing across the line. Every effort like that has its repercussions, however, and today he was unable to respond when the final five attacked on the ascent of Azurki. Using teammates Schachmann and Patrick Konrad as much as he could, Buchmann ultimately had to shoulder the bulk of the chasing, but the time gap stubbornly stayed over a minute and a half. However, it was never say die for Buchmann and he rode with intensity and heart. That heart looked to be cruelly broken when his group was misdirected in the closing kilometre as he was racing to hang on to a final podium place. Initially placing 4th overall after losing 7sec on the detour, the race organisers rightly awarded him initially second and finally third place, pushing Jakob Fuglsang to fourth.

Just one fresh face!

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Aside from a slew of established talent, this race is an opportunity to spot up-and-coming talent. Last year we picked out Quick-Step’s Enric Mas, Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) and Bjorg Lambrecht (Lotto Soudal). This year, Mas finished 11th overall while Lambrecht was 19th. Now all eyes are on last year’s Tour de l’Avenir winner, Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) who finished sixth overall while riding in support of teammate and runner-up Dan Martin. The 20-year-old Slovenian is a huge talent and has already won the Volta ao Algave this year to add to his already impressive palmares.

How do I love this race, let me count the ways

Reckoned to be the hardest week-long event and sandwiched between two monumental one-day races (Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix), many ride this race to fine tune their form for the Ardennes Classics and Giro d’Italia. I like to think of it as a series of tasty and tantalising tapas (Basque: pinxtos).

1. Parcours 

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In this race, the parcours speaks deeply of the landscape – undulating, not mountainous, just hilly. You have to understand I’m speaking from personal experience here. The route has something for everyone, apart from the pure sprinters. This year, aside from short, eye-wateringly steep ramps, we’ve had sterrato (white gravel roads) to spice things up even more!

2. Fans

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Basques have a deep and abiding love of the bike, and of bike racing and the race route was, as always, incredibly fan-friendly. The crowds on Friday and Saturday were amazing and, this year, they were rewarded with a Basque winner.

3. (Finally) a Basque winner

Emotional tears at the finish for Ion Izagirre who moved onto the top step of the podium on the final stage to become the first Basque victor since Iban Mayo in 2003. Izagirre was thrilled after crossing the finishing line in Eibar and said:

I had been third overall three times and winning now is something exciting, really incredible. It has been a very tough week, but the team’s work has been formidable and thus we have been able to finish in the best possible way.

This was his third victory of the season after the overall in Volta a Valenciana and a stage in Paris-Nice. However, it was Astana’s 22nd victory of the season (it’s not all about Deceuninck–Quick-Step) and we’re not even at the end of April!

Final results

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1  Ion Izagirre (Astana)19:24:09

2 Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) +0:29

3 Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe) +0:31

4 Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +0:36

5  Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:51

6 Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) +1:56

7 Mikel Landa (Movistar) +2:56

8 Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) +3:25

9 Patrick Konrad (BORA-hansgrohe) +3:29

10 Maximilian Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe) +3:44

Jerseys

Leader’s Jersey: Ion Izagirre (Astana)

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Points Jersey: Maximilian Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe)

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King of the Mountains Jersey: Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)

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Best Basque: Ion Izagirre (Astana)

Best Young Rider: Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates)

Team Classification Leader: BORA-hansgrohe

Stage winners

Stage 1: Maximilian Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe) Eurosport video here

Stage 2: Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) Eurosport video here

Stage 3: Maximilian Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe) Eurosport video here

Stage 4: Maximilian Schachmann (BORA-hansgrohe) Eurosport video here

Stage 5: Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe) Eurosport video here

Stage 6: Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) Eurosport video here

Official race websiteTwitter #itzulia and Facebook

Header image: Final podium © GETTY

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