Izagirre marks Grand Tour debut with stage win at Giro

Fifteen years after José Luis Rubiera prevailed in Falzes, another Spaniard, Jon Izagirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), has won a Giro d'Italia stage in the northern Italian city near the Austrian border. It is only the third time that the Giro has finished a stage there in the Dolomites, with Damiano Cunego also a winner in 2004.

Izagirre was a member of the 10-man breakaway that dominated stage 16, the first day of racing after the Giro's second rest day. With a final climb in the last 5km, featuring a maximum gradient of 12 percent, the teams of the sprinters opted not to control the peloton while the squads of the overall general classification hopefuls were content to wait for the upcoming mountain stages to expend energy. It was an ideal scenario for a breakaway to succeed, and Izagirre rode away from his nine companions on the final climb to claim a solo victory.

"This is a great victory," Izagirre said after crossing the line. "I had one pro win before [the time trial at the Vuelta Asturias this year] but I never imposed myself at such a high level of cycling. This one is of a great importance.

"Today we knew that the breakaway could work but at the end I had to battle against strong climbers like José Herrada and Mathias Frank but I attacked and finished solo. To be able to win during the third week of a Grand Tour is also very meaningful about my capacities."

The winner in Falzes is the younger brother of Gorka, who also rides for Euskaltel-Euskadi, and the son of José Ramon who, during his four years as a pro cyclist, was twice the Spanish national champion for cyclo-cross and twice second.

"Yes, I come from a cycling family," said the 23-year-old Basque rider, born in Ormaiztegi in the province of Guipuzcoa. "My brother is stronger and more powerful than me but I'm more of a climber than he is."

Nonetheless, the younger Izagirre showed that he's not afraid of the northern Classics as he made the long-lasting breakaway at Gent-Wevelgem and was the last man to get caught by the favorites.

Italian media suspected Euskaltel-Euskadi would become an ally for race leader Joaquim Rodriguez in the coming stages but Izagirre downplayed the speculations. "Tomorrow, another Giro begins," the Basque rider said. "The hardest stages are yet to come. With Mikel Nieve, we have a very strong leader. We want to do a good race for him."

Nieve is currently eighteenth on GC, 4:20 behind overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez. Nieve won a mountain stage in last year's Giro at Gardeccia and finished tenth overall.

While the future of the Euskaltel-Euskadi team is in jeopardy with the withdrawal of the main sponsor, Izagirre was pragmatic about the team's future. "I don't think that my stage win at the Giro will change anything in terms of sponsorship," Izagirre said. "As cyclists, we can only do our job the best we can, as we did today. We're serene and not worried about the future."

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