Victory on stage one of the Tour of the Alps had a special poignancy to Pello Bilbao and the entire Astana team as the Spaniard crossed the line with a finger pointed to the heavens one year after Michele Scarponi won the opening stage of the 2017 race.
Scarponi died after being hit by a truck while training just a few days after what would prove to be his final race, and before he climbed onto the team bus which still has Scarponi’s name on a board in the windscreen, Bilbao dedicated his win to the Italian.
“This is my fifth pro victory and it is very special as it comes one year after Scarponi’s final win,” Bilbao said after the finish.
“Michele always has a special place in our hearts. He is a source of inspiration and motivation and to repeat his feat at the Tour of the Alps makes this win even more significant. This victory is for him and his family.”
Despite having five riders in the front group, Astana were content to sit back for much of the final time before Bilbao attacked on final few kilometres towards the finish in Folgaria.
Bilbao was able to hold on to the finish as team-mate Luis Leon Sanchez jumped out of the chasing group to take second. That result means that Bilbao now leads the general classification by 10 seconds over Sanchez.
“After the climb there was a moment of uncertainty and we had the strength in numbers. We had to play our cards smartly so I tried to accelerate, and never looked back until the finish,” Bilbao continued.
“We came to this race looking for a stage victory and as preparation for the Giro d’Italia, and we have already succeeded in our first goal.
“Now we can possibly move to another one… Miguel Angel Lopez feels good and a climb like the Alpe di Pampeago [at the finish of stage two] is better suited to him than to myself. If he happens to take the jersey away from me there will be no hard feelings!”
Stage two is the only bona fide summit finish of the Tour of the Alps, with the riders facing the 7.7km climb to Fiemme-Alpe di Pampeago at the end of a 145.5km stage.