For the second time in just over a decade, Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) stood the tallest in the final podium of the Tour of the Basque Country after a stunning final time trial ride on Saturday.
Klöden came within a whisker of taking the final stage as well, an extremely challenging 24 kilometre loop through hilly terrain in the town of Zalla, that essentially consisted of two long climbs of single-track lane and two fast, twisting descents. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) came off on one corner, an accident that all but certainly cost him the second place overall.
On top of that, the extremely warm weather - apparently the hottest in the last 30 years at the Basque Country, and reaching the mid-thirties in the late afternoon for the last four days - made what was already a tough course even tougher.
Klöden though, seemed to flourish in the heat, taking the fastest intermediate time by seven seconds over compatriot Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) at the mid-way check. On the second part, though, he faded slightly and Martin won the stage with a nine second advantage.
That said, with the overall in the Basque Country as his main objective, it made sense for Klöden to ease back slightly on the final run-in rather than risk overheating on a course with barely a metre of flat.
"It's great to be back here again," Klöden, who turned pro way back in 1998, said afterwards, "this victory shows that age really doesn't mattter."
The same could be said for his RadioShack team-mate Chris Horner, the winner last year and second this time round at 47 seconds. Whilst Klöden is 35, Horner is 39, with Gesink, at a youthful 24, looking like a schoolboy in comparison on the final podium.
For Klöden, meanwhile, 2011 is proving to be a comeback year. Already the winner of the time trial stage of Paris-Nice, where he finished second overall, Klöden had also taken a stage of the Criterium International before tackling the Basque Country.
All week, he has never been out of the top two spot overalls: on Monday he was part of a four-rider breakaway that moved ahead of the bunch, on Tuesday he took over the lead for 24 hours and following Thursday¹s spectacularly uneventful queen stage to the mountain top finish at Arrate, the German became top favourite to win the race outright. Finally Klöden proved to be
more than up to the task, taking his biggest win since the Tour of Romandie back in 2008.
Tour of the Basque Country 2011: Stage six, Zalla - Zalla ITT 24km
1. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 32-16
2. Andreas Klöden (Radioshack) 32-25
3. Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) 32-41
4. Jakob Fuglslang (Leopard-Trek) 32-45
5. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervelo) 32-58
6. Maxime Monfort (Leopard-Trek) 33-04
7. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) 33-06
8. Richie Porte (Saxo-Bank) 33-09
9. Christopher Horner (Radioshack) 33-11
10. Vasili Kiryienka Movistar 33-16
1. Andreas Klöden (Radioshack)
2. Christopher Horner (Radioshack) at 47 secs
3. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) at st
4. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Movistar) at 1 min 3 secs
5. Xavier Tondo (Movistar) at st
6. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 1 min 8 secs
7. David Lopez (Movistar) 1min 28 secs
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) 1 min 31 secs
9. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) 1 min 49 secs
10. Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) 1 minute 54 secs
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