Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) has never been afraid of attacking and today the veteran Kazakh pulled off an impressive lone win ahead of a pack of 60 riders in stage three of the Tour of the Basque Country.
It was shades of last year’s Tour de France stage 13 all over again, when Vinokourov blasted away seven kilometres from the finish in Ravel for a solo victory.
This time the chasing pack was led by Rabobank who were working for Oscar Freire. In this ultra-hilly edition of the Tour of the Basque Country this was one stage that seemed likely to end up in a bunch sprint.
Freire’s wife and two children were waiting for him at the stage finish – as they always do when a race comes close to his home region of Santander – and the Spaniard took the bunch sprint win in style.
The only problem, though, was that eight seconds earlier, Vinokourov had crossed the finish line pointing at the Astana logo on his chest and claiming his first victory of the season. His first in the Tour of the Basque Country.
Vinokourov had seized his opportunity with around four kilometres to go on an unclassified climb that came shortly after a second category ascent. The climbs, as well as unusually hot weather, had softened up the opposition.
Pounding away on the rolling roads, the bunch often had Vinokourov in their sights, but the roads were just too twisty, and the finish too close, for the pack to get organised enough to pull him back.
As the Basque Country reaches its half-way point, the overall classification remains as tightly packed together as ever, although one big name Ivan Basso (Liquigas) decided to call it a day. Danilo Di Luca (Katusha), who usually shines on the Basque Country’s short, sharp climbs, also abandoned.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) moved back into the lead, thanks to a better placing on the stage than previous leader Andreas Klöden (RadioShack). The two are still on the same time.
With 20 riders at less than a minute on the overall and the top three tied on time, the Spaniard was clear that tomorrow [Thursday], which features a tough final ascent to Arrate, will be the day that really decides whether the top spot is his for keeps.
“I’m going to lose time in the final time trial [on Saturday] so I have to give it everything on tomorrow’s ascent to Arrate and hope that the difference is big enough,” Rodriguez said. “If I don’t get enough time tomorrow, then I won’t win. It’s as simple as that.”
Tour of the Basque Country, stage three: Villatuerta – Zuia-Murgia 180km
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 4-20.38
2. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank at 8 secs
3. Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank
4. Pim Ligthart (Ned) Vacansoleil
5. Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R-La-Mondiale
6. Egoitz Garcia (Spa) Caja Rural
7. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita) Lampre
8. Christopher Horner (USA) Radioshack
9. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Liquigas
10. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
101. Steve Cummings (GBr) Team Sky at 7 mins 5 secs
1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha 12-30.09
2. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Radioshack
3. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
4. Christopher HORNER (USA) Radioshack at 1 sec
5. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Cervelo at 6 secs
6. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Movistar
7. Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
8. David Lopez (Spa) Movistar
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
10. Benat Iinxausti (Spa) Movistar at 9 secs
80. Steven Cummings (GBr) Team Sky at 16 mins 46 secs
Andreas Klöden moves in to lead of Tour of the Basque Country
Rodriguez takes a narrow sprint victory in Basque Country