Ion Izagirre (Movistar) took his first Tour de France stage win with plenty of panache, coolly dropping off the Col de Joux Plane into Morzine while the slippery, rain-soaked descent caused problems for other world-class descenders like third-placed Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Colombian revelation Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), the stage runner-up.
The 27-year-old Spaniard dropped the pair with seeming ease after they topped the final climb together, carving the corners on the descent with a precision Nibali has used in the past to leave so many others behind.
"It was an amazing day," Izagirre said of his first Tour stage win. "A victory in the Tour de France, in the Alps, is something every cyclist could dream of."
Izagirre was part of a large group that congealed off the front on the second climb of the day, the Col de la Colombiere.
By the time the race was descending off Ramaz, the day’s penultimate climb before the Col de Joux Plane, Pantano and Julian Alaphillipe (Etixx-QuickStep) had linked up and had a minute advantage over the chase.
Nibali jumped from the chase group and caught the duo with 15.5km to go and soon went on the attack, momentarily distancing the pair before they reeled him back.
Izagirre moved up from the chasers next and caught Pantano and Alaphilippe, with the Frenchman immediately losing ground. The new duo caught the tiring Nibali close to the summit, and Pantano was first to cross the line.
The Spaniard was soon rid of his companions, who seemed to struggle in the wet conditions as Pantano went off the road briefly, and then Nibali lost contact with the Colombian he got back on track.
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"It was clear to me that both Pantano and Nibali were good descenders, but when you’ve struggled so much through the stage you might lack that bit of self-conviction," Izagirre said. "That’s why it was clearly set on my mind, ever since the top of the Joux Plane climb, that I had to start the ‘real’ descent at the front to reach the finish solo with at least a few meters."
Izagirre was never challenged again as he descended into Morzine, crossing the line 19 seconds ahead of Pantano and another 23 to Nibali.
"I was focused on keeping the right line and all strength into that downhill, giving 100 per cent,” he said. “It all went well and we’re super happy about this win."
Saturday’s win is the second Grand Tour stage victory for Izagirre, who won a stage of the Giro d’Italia in 2012. The win is his fifth in 2016, following two stage victories at the Tour de Suisse, where he won the 3.5km prologue ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and then followed it with a win in the stage 8 time trial. He finished second overall in the Swiss tour. He also won the one-day GP Miguel Indurain and the Spanish national time trial title. But today’s stage win was by far the biggest of his career.
"At the finish, I could only think about all the efforts and suffering leading up to this victory - they all were truly worth it," he said. "…This win goes to [his injured brother] Gorka, the whole team, my girlfriend and my little baby, expected to be born in October."
Pat Malach says: Descending is one of the most graceful aspects of cycling – with perhaps a few notable top-tube-pedalling exceptions – and on Saturday Ion Izagirre put on a masterful display of the skill and courage necessary to negotiate a tricky descent with the added challenge of doing it in the pouring rain. No doubt most people watching stage 20 into Morzine thought Nibali – the Shark of Messina – would ride away from Izagirre and Pantano when they crested the Joux Plane together, but Izagirre laid that notion to rest within a few kilometres. A great stage win.
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