Pello Bilbao’s expression expressed the thoughts of the chasing group at the Tour of the Alps. It was a look of surprise and fatigue mixed with respect and a sense of a missed opportunity.
The Basque climber and fast finisher beat Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) in the stage 1 sprint but it was for second place after Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R Citroen) had completed a superb solo ride to win the first race of career.
Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) finished five seconds behind Bouchard and scored a six-second time bonus but he had been riding to win the stage from Cles across the Sugana valley to Primiero/San Martino di Castrozza at the foot of the Dolomites.
“I can’t be too disappointed. He deserved to win, he did a great solo,” Bilbao said.
“We actually thought the race was lost at one point. Bouchard had two minutes but then in the last 15km it was difficult for him to ride solo to the finish in the valley winds and we closed the gap.
“But there wasn't a 100 per cent agreement in the peloton to work together. We tried to pull as much as we could in the last five kilometres and we got near, we were just a few seconds behind. Hopefully we showed that we can do great things in this race.”
Bilbao won a stage to Pieve di Bono in last year’s Tour of the Alps, beating eventual overall winner Simon Yates and Alexandre Vlasov and finishing second overall, 58 seconds down on the British climber.
Yates and Vlasov are absent this year and so Bilbao overall ambitions are legitimate. He has already won a stage at the recent Itzulia Basque Country, beating Julian Alaphilippe in a sprint. He was also third on the decisive Jebel Hafeet mountain stage at the UAE Tour, finishing just five seconds down on overall winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
The lightly built but fast finishing Basque rider appears ideal for the short but mountainous Tour of the Alps stages.
“We’ve taken some good bonus seconds for GC and the goal is to fight for a podium spot,” he confirmed. “Then if we can take some stages too, that’d be great. I’m here to race.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.
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