46th Vuelta al Pais Vasco - PT
Spain, April 3-8, 2006
Valverde the best in Irún
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) has won the first stage of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, which finished in a bunch sprint in Irún. The stage, which featured the Alto de Jaizkibel with 12 km to go, saw numerous attacks, but 50 riders still made it to the finish in the front group. Valverde was just quicker than Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), thus took the first leader's jersey in the Basque ProTour race.
How it unfolded
The first stage was short but difficult, with two cat. 1, one cat. 2, and two cat. 3 climbs to be tackle in a 130 km loop in the north eastern part of the country. Attacks started immediately, with 16 riders gaining 25 seconds on the peloton. The group didn't quite make it to the first climb, being caught at km 18. A more successful counter came from Alessandro Vanotti (Milram), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel) and Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues), with the trio managing 1'10 at the top of the Cat. 3 Alto de Gurutze (km 25).
The peloton sat up and allowed the break some time, and the three pressed their advantage to 6'02 after 42 km, before tackling the Cat. 2 Alto de Xoxoka. At the top, Vanotti took the points again ahead of Etxebarria and Fedrigo, with Fertonani (Caisse d'Epargne) in fourth at 5'24. The Caisse d'Eparnge team started to work after this, and on the second ascent of the Alto de Gurutze (km 73), the gap was down to four minutes. Again, Vanotti led Etxebarria and Fedrigo over the top.
The break was back in Irún by km 80, with 3'37 of their lead still intact. The intermediate sprint was won by Fedrigo ahead of Etxebarria and Vanotti. The latter paid for his earlier climbing efforts when the trio hit the cat. 1 Alto de Erlaitz: 3.9 km at a leg snapping 11.3%. Fedrigo was at the top first ahead of Etxebarria and the dropped Vanotti, with the peloton at 2'10.
The climb saw Danilo di Luca (Liquigas) test his legs in the peloton, without success. But an attack by Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) managed to get the French rider within 1'13 of the two leaders at 35 km to go, with the peloton still at 2'00. Rabobank helped with the tempo making with Caisse d'Epargne, and by 110 km, all the breakaways were caught.
Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) and Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis) were the next to try as the peloton hit the Jaizkibel. They were caught by Aitor Osa, before Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) attacked, stringing out the peloton. But no-one could get a clear gap on the climb, and a smaller peloton headed back into Irún led by Caisse d'Epargne and Rabobank. The bunch sprint was inevitable, and it was Valverde who managed to get his wheel in front of Freire at the finish to win.
Tomorrow's second stage is between Irún and Segura, over 155 km and peppered with climbs. One cat. 1, five cat. 2 and six Cat. 3 ascents will surely break up the peloton and start to shape the final GC.