The Frenchman beat Primoz Roglic to the line after the pair had broken clear on the final climb

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) won the opening stage of the 2018 Tour of the Basque Country in a two-man sprint ahead of Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo).

Alaphilippe started his sprint early but managed to hold on for victory, continuing Quick-Step Floors’ current hot streak.

Pello Bilbao (Astana) won the sprint for third in a group consisting of a dozen riders, ahead of Alaphilippe’s teammate Eric Mas in fourth, and Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) in fifth.

Alaphilippe and Roglic had escaped from the rest of the peloton on the extremely steep Elkano Gaina, cresting the top with a lead of around 25 seconds over a chase group.

That lead remained stable on the descent, giving the pair ample time to contest the sprint.

How it happened

A breakaway group of four riders was established at the start of the stage consisting of Aitor González (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias), Ibai Salas (Burgos BH), Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural), Amanuel Gebregziabher (Dimension Data).

They were later joined by Dario Cataldo (Astana) and Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) on the second climb of the day, the Maddiola.

A mostly Movistar-led peloton kept the gap to within 1-30, and had threatened to bring them back early when it dropped to less than one minute.

In response, the escapees upped their pace on the following category three climb (on which Salas was dropped), and the gap started to grow again until reaching a maximum of 2-30 with 40km to go.

Lastra claimed maximum points over the climb by out-sprinting Gebregziabher at the top, having been second over the previous climb behind De Gendt.

The gap started to decrease once LottoNL-Jumbo moved to the front of the peloton, and continued to plummet once other teams started to contribute. By the penultimate climb of the day, they had been caught.

Katusha-Alpecin’s Ian Boswell took to the front on the day’s penultimate climb, before an attack from Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott) prompted Team Sky to take up the pace and bring him back. Most of the work was done by Vasil Kiryienka, while Michal Kwiatkowski claimed maximum points at the summit for the Mountains Classification.

Sky continued to lead the peloton on the subsequent descent, and into the final climb of the category two Elkano Gaina.

The pace dropped drastically once the riders reached the narrow, steep foot of that climb. No outright attacks were made, but Roglic moved to the front to thin out the bunch, causing gaps to appear further down.

Alaphilippe was the first to make a proper attack halfway up the climb. Only Roglic and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) were able to follow, and Quintana was dropped on a particularly steep section nearing the top.

Quintana was joined by Mas, Gorka Izagirre, Jelle Vanendert (Lotto-Soudal), Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), on the descent, but they could not make any inroads on Alaphilippe and Roglic, with the Frenchman setting a searing pace on the descent.

The five-man chase group was caught before the finishing straight by another seven riders, including big names such as Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First), who together reached the line 23 seconds behind the triumphant Alaphilippe.

The Tour of the Basque Country will continue tomorrow with another day full of climbing that is likely to produce another competitive battle in the GC race.

Results

Vuelta al Pais Vasco 2018, stage one: Zarautz – Zarautz (162.1km)

1 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-17-46
2 Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo
3 Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 23s
4 Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-Step Floors
5 Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
6 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
8 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, all same time

Overall classification after stage one

1 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 4-17-36
2 Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 4s
3 Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana Pro Team, at 32s
4 Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 33s
5 Gorka Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
6 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
7 Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
8 Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, all same time