2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador (Astana) has won the hilly first stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco in Legazpi, which was littered with seven categorised mountains. Contador won with a slight gap over compatriot Ezequiel Mosquera (Karpin Galicia), while Mosquera's team-mate, David Herrero, led the peloton across the line, eight seconds behind Contador. Contador let his team work to get the break of the day back, while being alert towards the end of the race. He crested the top of the Alto de Deskarga, some six kilometres from the line, in second spot, then used his superiour strength to escape Mosquera.
Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel Euskadi) was the most consistent over the category two and three climbs and secured himself the lead in the mountains classification. Iban Mayoz (Karpin Galicia) proved to be the fastest over the metas volantes. Saunier Duval was the best team of the day, with four of its riders among the best 20.
"This is an important win for the team," commented Contador after the finish. "The team worked well. But I won't say that the Vuelta is already decided, everybody can have a bad day. And now, we will have a lot of work for the rest of the week, because the other ones will attack."
Mayoz praised his team-mates, saying that "The team did a great job. Mosquera has showed that he is able to be with Contador. I have won this classification; we were present in the breakaway intents. It really was a good day for us."
How it unfolded
During the night, it had snowed in Legazpi. But when the riders were presented to the public in Legazpi, the sun was out and the temperatures were agreeable, even if on the mountains around the little Basque village the snow was still visible.
The first stage from Legazpi to Legazpi over 137 kilometres was a hilly affair. The 152 riders were motivated to win this stage, and so the first attack was set after eight kilometres by the neo professional Dominik Roels (Milram), but he was not able to reach a big advantage before the peloton chased him down.
Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel Euskadi) was the next one to try his luck, and he was more successful. Three kilometres later, Iban Mayoz (Karpin Galicia) and Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis) joined the Basque rider. The first mountain of the day, the Alto de Liernia, was passed by Martínez in front of Mayoz and Buffaz. The gap was already three minutes and seven seconds when the three passed the Alto de Aztiria. Rubén Lobato (Saunier Duval) led the peloton over the Aztiria.
After 40 kilometres of this first stage, the gap was 3'54. But now in the peloton some teams started to work. Astana and Caisse d'Epargne reduced the gap during the next ten kilometres to about three minutes. When Silence-Lotto joined the other teams in their work, the advance of the four riders in front decreased to 2'41.
In the ascent to the Alto de Deskarga (2nd category), Mickael Buffaz was not able to follow the rhythm of his two breakaway partners. Martínez was once more the first to pass the summit of the Alto de Deskarga, ahead of Mayoz and Buffaz, who followed the two others 30 seconds later. The peloton passed 3'08 behind. It began to rain and this made the descent quite dangerous.
In Legazpi Mayoz won the metas volantes classification. Some kilometres later, Buffaz was chased down by the peloton, where now Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Igor Astarloa (Milram) tried to escape.
Martínez was able to also win the following two mountain classifications, the Alto de Liernia and the Alto de Gabiria. It did not stop raining, and current world champion Bettini came close to crashing on the descent of the Alto de Liernia.
Mayoz rolled over all three of the metas volantes in first in today's stage.
In the last ascent to the Alto de Deskarga, Mayoz and Martínez were chased down by the peloton. Mosquera was the first on the summit of this mountain of the second category, followed by Contador. The duo created a gap between themselves and the peloton, where Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) led the chase.
With 700 metres to go, Contador accelerated and Mosquera could not hang on. The Astana rider raised his hands, having delivered yet another win for Astana.
Tomorrow's stage 2 will lead the riders from Legazpi to Erandio, over 153 kilometres and five mountains, four of the third category and one category one climb. The weather preview is not too good, with prediction of rain.