By Bjorn Haake in Las Rozas
The Vuelta a España's 18th stage turned into a classroom for Caisse d'Epargne's Imanol Erviti, and the young Spaniard passed his exams with flying colours. Erviti, in his fourth year as a professional, took his first victory from a successful 18-man breakaway in Las Rozas, and he couldn't believe his first win as a pro came at a race like the Vuelta.
The victory was made sweeter by the consistency of the break, which included big names such as Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) and Karsten Kroon (CSC-Saxo Bank). "The quality of the break was very good, with the World Champion [Bettini] in there and the points jersey [Van Avermaet]. That gives a lot of prestige to the victory."
Erviti had high praise for his 'teacher', José Vicente Garcia Acosta, who also made the breakaway. "The key to my success today was Vicente Garcia Acosta. He has shown me a lot," Erviti said. Having his more experienced teammate in the group helped Erviti make his first win an important one. "Today we were trying to share the work," Erviti said. "We were talking and made a strategic plan for the final."
Erviti praised Garcia Acosta for his experience and the ability to read the race. "It was a great cycling lesson by Garcia Acosta today." It looked the run-in would favour Erviti more, so Garcia Acosta went earlier, when it was less likely the move would stick. This opened up the door for Erviti later.
Racing hard against Irishman Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole), Erviti took the win by the closest of margins. In fact, it was so close he didn't even celebrate until well after the finish. Erviti shook hands afterwards with Roche, congratulating him for his great effort. "We were fighting hard in the sprint. It was a tough battle. I didn't raise my hands [over the line] because it was just too close. I was afraid of letting this opportunity slip away."
This little detail shows that the Spaniard certainly has the head to win races. He may have well had Gianni Bugno on his mind: the Italian almost lost the Ronde van Vlaanderen in 1994 against Johan Museeuw. Bugno had started celebrating and the "Lion of Flanders" came roaring down the finishing straight to the encouragement of his home fans. Bugno barely made it across in first.
It is likely that Erviti is familiar with the scenario, as Flanders is one of his favourite races. "I have done it all those years since I turned pro. It's such a Belgian tradition. It is a very impressive race with all the supporters." But currently his thoughts were not wandering towards the Spring Classics. "The Tour of Flanders is later ... I am only thinking about the race into Segovia."
The level-headed rider quickly acknowledged that it was the entire team who contributed to the success. "From the beginning my teammates were racing hard to be in the break."
Erviti explained that he wasn't chosen beforehand as the rider to go for the break. "The team generally starts out with the quest to be in a break. Everybody has a chance, except Alejandro [Valverde]." The team captain is too high in the overall classification for such games to be allowed by the other favourites. The same is true for Joaquin Rodriguez, who is only one place – and 11 seconds – behind Valverde.
It was hard work for everyone to try to be in the break. Several moves formed and were brought back again, which made for fast and furious racing. The Caisse d'Epargne team was careful to go with every move, and, finally, Vicente Garcia Acosta and Erviti made the break. Erviti knew that he owed the squad. "It was the work of the entire team in the beginning that allowed the move to develop."