Gorka Izagirre on track for a podium result
Gorka Izagirre is continuing his series of strong results in the early spring’s stage races on home turf at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, as he looks to be on track for another podium finish. Last Sunday the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLIN TEAM surprised friend and foe with an aggressive race at the Ronde van Vlaanderen, missing out on the top result but netting a lot of screen time.
Due to the topography with many short but steep climbs and spring’s typically changing weather conditions, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco is considered as one of the toughest one-week stage races of the year. Apart from the individual time trial, all stages of this year’s race feature a number of rated climbs. The BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM fielded a team well-suited to the challenges of this race, with the Izagirre brothers as its designated leaders. Ion already finished this race in 3rd on the overall podium twice in previous years, and Gorka finished both the Tour of Oman and Paris-Nice in 3rd earlier this spring. Vincenzo Nibali is competing in the Basque country to further fine-tune his shape for the Ardennes classics. Hermann Pernsteiner and Franco Pellizotti serve as support for the climbs while Mark Padun and Yuriya Arashiro lined-up as locomotives for flat sections and chases.
On the first day, the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM kept its powder dry for the early parts of the stage. They were not represented in the lead group of the day and focussed on protecting their designated captains and get them into the demanding finale in the best possible position. In this finale Gorka Izagirre proved to be the strongest climber of his team on the day: While he could not follow the attack of Primoz Roglic and Julian Alaphilippe, he paced the chase on the ensuing descent to cross the finish line in 5th, 23 seconds in arrears of the stage winner. Ion Izagirre and Vincenzo Nibali arrived at the finish another 28 seconds later. But as the second stage showed there was still room for improvement for the riders in red, gold and dark blue: Mark Padun made it into the group of the day and collected enough KOM points to claim the best climber’s jersey - much to his own surprise. Gorka Izagirre managed to keep up with his fastest rivals on the final climb, sprinting to a 3rd place while Ion Izagirre conceded 10 seconds to his brother, finishing in 10th. In the overall standings, Gorka Izagirre moved up from 5th to 3rd.
On Easter Sunday the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM had tackled the Ronde van Vlaanderen with a veritable trident: Heinrich Haussler had shown good form in the run-up to this iconic Classic that is one of his favourite races. Vincenzo Nibali had decided to contest the race as a real-world test for the cobbled stage in this year’s Tour de France, while Sonny Colbrelli tried to keep expectations low as he had just recovered from a cold. But for several hours Ivan Cortina was the most active rider of the team: The young Spaniard screened the head of the peloton for possible attacks throughout the opening 60 kilometers, made the jump into a lead group that first consisted of eleven riders and then shrunk to eight. With 45 kilometers to go, he was caught as the last of the early attackers, having crested the iconic Muur van Gerardsbergen as the lone race leader before. In the finale Sonny Colbrelli placed a first acceleration on the lower slopes of the Kruisberg before Vincenzo Nibali attacked from the chasing group of favourites with 27 kilometers to go. While both attacks were marked quickly, Colbrelli, Nibali and Heinrich Haussler crossed the finish line in Oudenaarde in 23rd, 24th and 25th respectively, less than one and a half minutes behind the solo winner Niki Terpstra.
A couple of days earlier Heinrich Haussler had been the strongest rider of the BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM at the semi-classic Dwars door Vlaanderen: The experienced Australian even attacked on the Stationberg to bridge the gap to Tony Martin, but the latter crashed at a railway crossing just before Haussler could catch up with him, and thus the move was doomed. In the finale he missed out on the decisive move when thirteen riders set off, crossing the finish line in Waregem in 23rd.
58TH VUELTA AL PAIS VASCO
STAGE 2: ZARAUTZ - BERMEO, 166.7KMS
1. Julian Alaphilippe, FRA, in 4:11.47 hours
2. Primoz Roglic, SVN, st
3. Gorka Izagirre, ESP/BAHRAIN MERIDA PRO CYCLING TEAM, st