Eleven months after Oier Lazkano (Movistar) stunned the cycling world with Spain's first-ever podium in Dwars Door Vlaanderen last March, this Monday the Movistar man managed to go one better and triumph on the closest Spain has to a Belgian cobbled Classic at the Clásica Jaén.
The Spanish National Champion managed to do it in style, as well, after getting in breaks for an estimated 114 kilometres of the 158.3 that comprised this year's Clásica, dropping his most tenacious rival, Nicolas Prodhomme (Decathlon-AG2R) 12 kilometres from the line and soloing home to the finish.
In the process, Lazkano managed to keep a dangerously strong chase group spearheaded by Sepp Kuss, Jan Tratnik (both Visma-Lease A Bike) and double Jaén podium finisher Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) at bay, finally crossing the line with just 28 seconds advantage.
Wellens and leading favourite Wout van Aert (Visma-Lease A Bike), who punctured at the worst moment possible and finished last, were present in Spain to hone their form for the upcoming Belgian Classics. But some 1,700 kilometres distant and 11 months on from when he made it onto the Dwars door Vlaanderen podium, Lazkano proved that his moment of glory last March in the streets of Waregem was no chance result by any means.
"In breaks like these you find energy from wherever you can, and I tried to manage my effort as best as possible, knowing where to pile on the pressure, when to ease back a little," Lazkano said afterwards.
"Spectators love it when there's a big war in races as nice as these and I'd like to have suffered a bit less than I did," he laughed. "But in any case, I'm delighted I could do what I did."
"How do I feel right now?" he was asked at the finish line, "Tired," he responded with another laugh. "I'll be happy when I've had time to stop for a while."
"The break was formed after more than 40 kilometres, with a lot of groups going early on and echelons as well, but when it takes that long to form, it's always a good sign."
"The peloton was always very strong, though, and we've had a hard battle all day."
In those last 15 kilometres, when I went for it alone, you don't get a chance to think much, when your heart rate is at 190 it's impossible to think, it's just pure agony."
His efforts paid off, though, and as Lazkano pointed out, "This is the first win of the season for me, and it's always nice to win, but like I said last year when I won in Burgos, it's even nicer to win when you're wearing the Spanish Champion's jersey."
With four wins so far in 2024 with four different riders, Movistar have notably stepped up their early season game and Lazkano attributed this in part to a team effort to "plan things out a bit more", highlighting moves taken by the team to progress both in "training and in nutrition."
"When cycling gets as advanced as it is now, it's more and more similar to Formula 1, every little step counts," he told AS newspaper as he savoured his seventh career victory and his second as the current Spanish National Champion.
Quite apart from his team's collective effort, Lazkano himself has been at altitude this spring in the Sierra Nevada, and immediately after the Clásica, he drove back to the nearby ski station to continue reaping the benefits of training at over 2,000 metres above sea level.
Lazkano will be making one-day races a priority this spring, and after taking part in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne at Opening Weekend, he'll then return to Dwars Door Vlaanderen to see if he can go one better than in 2023. To judge by his performance in the Clásica Jaén this February, that option is far from being out of the question.
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