Aranburu outpowers favourites for impressive solo win in Itzulia Basque Country

CASTELFIDARDO ITALY MARCH 14 Alex Aranburu Deba of Spain and Team Astana Premier Tech during the 56th TirrenoAdriatico 2021 Stage 5 a 205km stage from Castellalto to Castelfidardo 175m Rain TirrenoAdriatico on March 14 2021 in Castelfidardo Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

A few hundred yards after the finish of the Itzulia Basque Country on Tuesday, that time-honoured cliche about gestures being worth a thousand words rang truer than ever as Astana teammates Alex Aranburu and Omar Fraile hugged each other and whooped in delight at their two-up victory.

The two Basques - Aranburu from the neighbouring Gipuzkoa province and Fraile from close to Bilbao himself - had played a flawless game of fending off each others' attacks until one of them, with Aranburu, had worked out to perfection.

As the favourites watched each other too closely on the descent of the final categorized climb, la Asturiana, Aranburu finally broke away on a short plateau to rack up a lead of 30 seconds.

Tenth on the opening time trial, it briefly looked as if the Astana pro would secure both the GC and the stage win. But even though he struggled slightly on the last punchy rise into Sestao city centre, he could still hold on for Astana Pro Team's first win of the season, and Fraile could bring home second place to boot.

"We agreed to take turns trying and after Omar went for it and they brought him back, it was my turn next," Aranburu commented. "I could get a small gap, but then it rose a little further and I began to feel more certain of my chances.

"We knew there would be some important moves in the final climb, but that descent was also crucial.

"Winning at home, in La Itzulia, is very special. The team's had good results this season, and I started out well, but this is the first victory. and that's always great."

It is by far his biggest victory to date and Spain's first in the WorldTour this season. The 25-year-old has been knocking at the door for some time, with wins in the Vuelta a Burgos and Vuelta a Madrid in 2019, when he was still with Caja Rural-Seguros RGA. Having signed for Astana, he has also twice finished seventh in Milan-San Remo, in 2020 and, showing he had promising form for his home race, in 2021 just a few weeks ago.

As for whether he will now go for the Itzulia GC, given he is now lying second overall, Aranburu kept his cards close to his chest, saying "we have several strong leaders who could do that. However, I felt good yesterday in the time trial and I also felt good today."

It is true that Astana have several well-placed options on GC, ranging from Fraile in eighth place at 34 seconds through to Jakob Fuglsang at 43 seconds and defending champion Ion Izagirre at 1:09. But Aranburu is currently the best placed of them all and after his strong TT start and excellent result on Tuesday, he can hardly be ruled out of the GC fight, either.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.