With no time bonuses at hand, Izagirre’s slender seven-second advantage proved enough to keep reigning world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) the big pre-race favourite and triple winner at bay.
Valverde did not attack on the last stage – the completely flat terrain made that virtually impossible – but a large crash in the final kilometre saw many riders go down. Fortunately for the Astana team, Izagirre was not amongst them.
Both Izagirre and Valverde were badly injured in crashes on the opening stage of the 2017 Tour de France, making their joint return to the top of the podium in Valenciana a notable moment. Third was Astana’s Pello Bilbao, with the Kazakh squad also taking the team prize.
“I already said that the objective in 2019 was to win again, my victory in Morzine in the 2016 Tour was too long back,” Izagirre said after receiving his final yellow jersey of the race in front of Valencia’s town hall. It was also exactly 20 years since his team boss, former Astana racer Alexandre Vinokourov, won the Vuelta a Valencia back in 1999 ahead of Vladimir Belli and Javier Pascual Rodríguez.
“I like to be competitive again and be winning. It’s the best way possible to start my new season and my time with a new team.”
Izagirre recognised that beating Valverde was always a notable achievement, and even more so when he was wearing the world champion’s jersey. “A stage win would have been nice too, but first and third overall for the team, as well as the team prize, isn’t bad going either.”
Although Izagirre effectively won the race when he finished fourth in the small group of chasers behind Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) at the Ermita de Santa Lucia on stage 4, the Basque rider argued that his solid start in the time trial at Orihuela, where he was only beaten by Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), had been equally important.
“You had to start really well. Time trials almost always create bigger differences these days than the climbs, because at Santa Lucia there was only a couple of seconds difference between Adam Yates, Valverde, Pello and me.”
In contrast, at Orihuela, Izagirre gained nine seconds on Valverde.
Getting through such a long period without any wins was not easy, but Izagirre explained the key was “not to lose my morale. Everybody likes to win, and although the 2016 season seemed to go perfectly, the problems that every pro faces in this world - crashes, bad luck and so on - are always present.
“You have to keep working hard and keep testing yourself, so you can see that it’s possible to hit that high level again. That’s why I’m so pleased to have won. I missed it, and the star line-up here makes it even more satisfying.”
Izagirre will return to racing in the Vuelta a Andalucía, before going on to Paris-Nice, País Vasco, the Ardennes Classics and then the Giro d’Italia.