47th Vuelta al País Vasco - PT
Spain, April 9-14, 2007
Cobo races to overall victory, Sánchez nails TT win
Pulling out a strong time trial on the final day of the Vuelta al País Vasco, Juan José Cobo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) finished a determined third in the 14 kilometre race against the clock and ran out the overall winner of the 2.HC race.
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) proved quickest in the test around Oiartzun, beating Paris-Nice winner Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) by two seconds, but Cobo was just two seconds further back. Closest challenger Ángel Vicioso (Relax-GAM) had started the day just one second down but couldn’t match Cobo in the time trial, finishing 36 seconds slower in sixth place.
The Saunier Duval-Prodir rider has had an excellent week, racing to victory on the opening day and then seizing yellow from Vicioso when winning yesterday’s mountain stage. Counting the overall classification, he’s taken three victories in six days; not bad going for the 29 year old who, until this week, had no pro wins to his credit.
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) showed he is becoming more consistent on the TT bike, finishing 14 seconds behind Sánchez in fourth. This was eight seconds quicker than Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), who seems to be slightly off the form he showed earlier this spring when winning the Tours of Valencia and Murcia. His first season targets of Amstel Gold, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are fast approaching, and a clearer view of his form will be seen there.
Cobo finished 37 seconds ahead of Vicioso in the general classification, with Sánchez taking third, 1’16 back. Cunego showed his form is on the up prior to the Giro d’Italia in taking fourth overall, with Ardennes Classics favourites Valverde and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) next in standings.
Cobo’s consistency saw him take the points jersey ahead of Sánchez, while Aitor Hernández (Euskaltel Euskadi) won the mountains classification. Saunier Duval – Prodir and Iker Flores (Fuerteventura-Canarias) captured the team and metas volantes (hot spot sprints) prizes.
"The six days have been hard, but today has been incredible," Cobo told the EFE news agency after the stage. "In spite of being only 14 kilometres, I suffered as much as yesterday or the first day."
His exertions on stage five were part of the reason for that, but so too the fact that he was not content to just beat Vicioso in the race against the clock. "I was trying to win the time trial, even if the overall victory is already something impressive.
"Everyone said to me beforehand to be calm, that I had already won two stages and if I lost, it didn’t matter. To win a stage race is not something everyone can do, or which happens every day." However he said that this approach enabled him to put aside any pressure he was feeling and to give it everything in the time trial.
Cobo came into the race knowing he was in good form, having got third in the Vuelta a Castilla y León, but was prepared to work for his team-mates Jose Angel Gomez Marchante and Koldo Gil. "I said this it from the first day. In principle, I arrived to help Marchante and Gil, but I attacked on the first day, got the victory and built on that."
How it unfolded
Aitor Hernández held the provisional best time for quite a while when he covered the 14 kilometre distance in 22’31. Time trial specialists such as Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt (CSC) came and went but couldn’t improve on this mark. Discovery Channel’s Egoi Martinez eventually went eight-odd seconds quicker but was subsequently knocked off the top spot by his own team-mate
Alberto Contador, the Paris-Nice winner racing to an excellent time of 21’38. Cunego showed improving TT abilities when he posted a 21’50 to go provisional second, with Valverde third, but Sanchez was on an inspired ride. He was just behind Contador at the timecheck near the halfway point, seven seconds back, and pulled out all the stops on second half of the course to clock a final time of 21’36, two seconds quicker than the Discovery rider.
Cobo was also going well, leading his main GC rival Vicioso by thirteen seconds at the intermediate timecheck. He continued to gain time all the way to the line, edging ahead of Cunego to take third on the stage and seal his overall victory. Vicioso took sixth but had enough of a buffer to hold off Sánchez for second in the general classification.