Bilbao narrowly misses out on win
Be it at the Ronde van Vlaanderen or at the Tour of the Basque Country: Team Bahrain Victorious is showing some aggressive riding and can be seen at the sharp end of many races. In the Basque Country, Pello Bilbao sprinted to 2nd place at the end of the 4th stage, narrowly missing out on the second win of the season for the team.
At the one-week Tour of the Basque Country, the Basque riders of Team Bahrain Victorious are riding in an upbeat mood. Being the team’s designated captains for the overall standings, Mikel Landa and Pello Bilbao can rely on the assistance of riders such as Yukiya Arashiro, Eros Capecchi, Gino Mäder, Mark Padun and Rafa Valls Ferri. The Spaniard is returning from a seven-month injury break: Rafa had broken his femur in a large pile-up at the very end of the first stage of last year’s Tour de France. To start things off in style, the first day of the Tour of the Basque Country served up an individual time trial with two hard climbs - one right after the start and one up to the finish, connected by a pretty fast descent. As the team’s best-placed rider on the day, Pello Bilbao conceded 38 seconds to the day’s fastest time in 13th with Mikel Landa losing another 11 seconds.
On the next day, the weather in the Basque Country was rather foul, but it did not slow down things throughout the 2nd stage of the race. After a series of attacks in the finale, Mikel Landa crossed the finish line in 8th place as part of a first group chasing the solo winner while Pello Bilbao finished four seconds down in another small group of riders. At the end of the 3rd stage, the race route featured some nasty ramps with gradients up to 20 per cent. Team Bahrain Victorious took a share in chasing down the early attackers, clearly showing some ambition. On the steep ramps to the finish it was each rider on his own and against physics. Mikel Landa fought bravely, attacked once and crossed the finish line in 5th, again as part of the first chasing group. And since Pello Bilbao and Gino Mäder also showed proper climbing performances, Team Bahrain Victorious won the day’s team classification.
The finale of the 4th stage had some resemblance with San Sebastian’s Klasikoa one-day race, and as soon as the slopes of the Jaizkibel were reached Team Bahrain Victorious could be seen to up the pace. When the race hit the steep slopes of the Erlaitz, Mikel Landa decided to give it a go with 25 kilometres to go. But he was marked right away by the third-placed rider in the general standings and brought back soon after. For Pello Bilbao, this was the right moment to attack and he got more companions and manage to keep the chasers at a distance. The six riders cooperated well and approached the finish line in Hondarribia to sprint for the stage win, where Pello Bilbao only was beaten narrowly by Ion Izagirre. With his 2nd place on the stage, Bilbao moved up to 4th place in the overall standings, and Team Bahrain Victorious moved up to 2nd in the team classification. Right before the Tour of the Basque Country started, Pello Bilbao has already shown some great form at the GP Indurain one-day race when he finished in 4th after an animated finale.
The final result does not always tell the full story of a sporting event, and last weeks races in Belgium were a fitting example of this. At the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Team Bahrain Victorious fielded Sonny Colbrelli as its sprinter and Dylan Teuns as attackers, supported by the likes of Marco Haller, Heinrich Haussler, Jonathan Milan, Marcel Sieberg and Fred Wright. As the race approached the final hour and a bit, the riders of Team Bahrain Victorious likely surprised themselves with their attacks. Marco Haller followed up on a series of strong performances throughout the Spring classics, provoked the formation of a strong chase group with an attack and managed to stay at the sharp end of the race for quite a while. He even got some company with Dylan Teuns who had already shown to be in good form at the Dwars door Vlaanderen race a few days earlier. For a while, the two riders of Team Bahrain Victorious were part of an impressively strong six-rider lead group. But it was not to be and neither Haller nor Teuns could mark the decisive attacks, leaving the honours of best-placed rider to the experienced Heinrich Haussler in 20th place.
60TH ITZULIA - TOUR OF THE BASQUE COUNTRY
STAGE 4: VITORIA-GASTEIZ - HONDARRIBIA, 189.2KM
1. Ion Izagirre, ESP, in 4:17.07 hours
2. Pello Bilbao, ESP/Team Bahrain Victorious, st
3. Brandon McNulty, USA, st
TEAM CLASSIFICATION AFTER 4 OF 6 STAGES:
1. Team Jumbo-Visma, NED, in 37:20.47 hours
2. Team Bahrain Victorious, BAH, + 1.25
3. Astana-Premier Tech, KAZ, + 2.16