Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) continued his exceptional season with yet another big win at the Clásica San Sebastián 2018.
Following on from his win at Flèche Wallonne in the spring, and riding on the wave of stunning form that saw him claim two Tour de France stage wins and the king of the mountains jersey, the Frenchman again rode imperiously to seal his eighth victory of the season.
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He beat 2016 champion Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) in a two-man sprint, while Anthony Roux (Groupama-FDJ) came out on top of the sprint for third place some 16 seconds behind.
Alaphilippe and Mollema both launched explosive attacks on the final climb, the Murgil Tontorra. They managed to catch the dangerous duo of Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) and Antwan Tolhoek (LottoNL-Jumbo) – who had attacked further down the climb – just before the summit, which they crossed together.
They worked together well, and Mollema happy to take turns setting the pace, and Alaphilippe happy to lead out the sprint.
Ultimately the sprint did feel like a foregone conclusion, with Alaphilippe using his superior kick to win comfortably.
Earlier, in the run-in to the Murgil Tontorra, a huge crash disrupted the peloton, when a touch of wheels right at the front caused a chain reaction that saw several pre-race favourites fall.
They included: Tour de France star Primož Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo) ex-winner Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale), home favourites Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) and Mikel Landa (Movistar), and Sky’s Egan Bernal.
All were taken out of contention for the win, but it was Landa and Bernal who fared worse, with both needing to be placed carefully onto stretchers before being moved off the road.
How it happened
A break of six rode clear at the start of the stage, consisting entirely of non-World Tour teams: Pablo Torres (Burgos-BH), Lluis Mas (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Loic Chetout (Cofidis), plus three riders from the local Basque Euskadi-Murias team, Aritz Bargues, Cyril Barthe and Sergio Rodriguez.
They were let free by a satisfied peloton, and built a gap of over seven minutes.
That lead had shortened to just 2-40 when the break – led by Barthe – reached the summit for the first of three times up the Jaizkibel, the climb the race is most associated with.
In the aftermath of the climb the gap again went out to about four minutes, only to tumble to under two minutes on the next climb, the category three Arkale, once the race among the favourites began to heat up, with an attack from Movistar’s Winner Anacona.
Going over the summit, Barthe and Torres detached themselves from the rest of the break. Then on the next climb – the second ascent of the Jaizkibel – the rest of the group splintered into bits, while Barthe dropped Torres to strike out alone.
Back in the peloton, Sky took to the front with a train of five riders, in a sight reminiscent from last month’s Tour de France. They upped the pace and managed to swallow up all the other remaining riders from the break, as well as Anacona, leaving Barthe as the last survivor with a slender lead of around 15 seconds over the summit.
He held on gamely for a while, but was inevitably caught with just under 40km when attacks started to fire off the front of the peloton.
Movistar were again the instigators, with Anacona again going up the road, only this time with Ian Boswell (Katusha-Alpecin) and Kanstantsin Sivtsov (Bahrain-Merida) for company.
A large counter-attack followed shortly on the second time up the Arkale, stringing the bunch out into a long line of before everything came back together.
Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) was the next to have a go, but was joined by more and more riders on the descent until the whole peloton had caught back on.
The lull that followed was ended abruptly by the aforementioned crash that took down Landa and Bernal among others, which prompted a reorganisation in the bunch as teams reassessed the new situation.
Trek-Segafredo and Astana took turns to set the pace on the lower slopes of the climb, stringing out the bunch with a searing pace. However, it was a LottoNL-Jumbo rider who made the first attack in the form of Tolhoek, with Molard chasing onto his wheel.
Once their gap had reached a dangerous distance with the summit approaching, a group of favourites burst out of the significantly-reduced peloton, including Alaphilippe, Mollema, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida).
Alaphilippe and Mollema made the catch just before the top, and had enough daylight ahead of the others to ride all the way to the finish together.
Van Avermaet, Izagirre, Molard and Tolhoek all formed a chasing group which swelled in size as other riders caught up to them. But with the gap growing to over 20 seconds, they never looked like making the catch.
Clásica San Sebastián 2018 (221km)
1 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, in 6-03-45
2 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo
3 Anthony Roux (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 16s
4 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team
5 Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
6 Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First-Drapac
7 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
8 Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
10 Antwan Tolhoek (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, all same time