Iturria is the surprise winner
When a little known rider triumphs in a stage at a Grand Tour, it is often described as the ‘biggest win of their career so far’.
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In the case of today’s victor Mikel Iturria (Euskadi-Murias), that would be underselling his achievement – not only is this the biggest win of his career, it is in fact the very first time he’s crossed the finish line first as a professional.
Since turning pro in 2013, he’s mostly ridden at Continental level for the Basque Euskadi-Murias outfit. The team were promoted to Pro Continental level last season, allowing Iturria and the other riders more chances to ride in bigger races, including last year’s Vuelta, but it’s only now that the 27-year-old Iturria has landed a long-awaited first victory.
Of the 11 riders to form part of the day’s break, he will have been towards the bottom of anyone’s list of probable winners, which helps explain how, when he attacked 25km from the line, the others in the break showed little urgency in chasing him down.
As an organised continued to fail to materialise, Iturria was given enough leeway, and crossed the line as the solo victory. Shaking his head in disbelief with his jersey partially unzipped, it was clearly a feeling he was unfamiliar with.
Euskadi-Murias win on home roads
It’s been a great Vuelta for the wildcard invitations. Following in the footsteps of Cofidis and Burgos-BH, Euskadi-Murias became the third pro-continental team to land a stage at the race so far.
Better still, the victory was achieved on home ground on the team’s home turf of the Basque Country, in front of the region’s notoriously passionate cycling fans.
This victory is a big deal for a team whose mission has been to become the major representative of Basque Cycling in the pro-peloton, following the collapse of the old Euskaltel-Euskadi outfit, and is their second at the Vuelta following Oscar Rodriguez’s stage victory on the fearsome mountain top finish of La Camperona last year.
Despite these results, however, the team is expected to fold at the end of the season. That’s a shame, but hopefully their success these past two years will still have inspired a new generation of Basque talent.
Other escapees blow their chance
The break was full of quality riders who will have fancied their chances of success, all of whom will be left disappointed by their failure to reel in Iturria.
Both Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) got into the break having shown great form in the time trial yesterday, in which they finished third and fourth respectively. Both were lively, with Cavagna making attacks even having earlier been dropped and Craddock sprinting for third, but didn’t do enough for victory.
Alex Aranburu also looked very strong, but appeared to blow too many matches attempting to control the many attacks that were made throughout the finale. The second place finish for his Caja Rural team-mate Jonathan Lastra was a decent consolation, at least.
With another parcours playing into the hands of a long breakaway, don’t be surprised to see some of these riders seek a second chance tomorrow.
Ángel Madrazo extends lead in mountains classification
Halfway into the Vuelta, Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) still leads the mountains classification having inherited the lead after stage two.
Despite having already made a huge success of his race by winning stage five, he still seems determined to defend the jersey for as long as possible, and got into the break this afternoon with the sole intention of attaining the few points on offer on today’s stage.
As expected, he was first over the category three Col d’Osquich and the category two Col d’Ispeguy, although was dropped too early to contest the final category three Col de Oxondo.
That was enough to earn him eight points, bringing his tally up to 32 points, and extending his lead over Geoffrey Bouchard to 11 points.
He’ll face a tough challenge defending the jersey in the upcoming mountainous stages, but, on the basis of how he’s ridden so far, will give it a good go.
The peloton opts not to chase
There was no concerted chase from the peloton today, who eventually ambled over the line a whole 18-35 after Iturria had sealed victory.
A bunch sprint always looked very unlikely on such a rolling stage, and indeed the sprinters teams seemed resigned to the fact that the breakaway would succeed. Sam Bennett’s Bora-Hansgrohe opted not to chase, while Fabio Jakobsen’s Deceuninck-Quick-Step put their hopes in Rémi Cavagna winning from the break.
Tomorrow is another rolling stage in the Basque Country, but we may see more intent from the sprinter’s teams. The climbs are less severe, while the opening two-thirds are mostly flat, which ought to make it easier for the peloton to control the break.
The likes of Bennett will be itching at another chance of a bunch sprint, and, with several more mountainous stages on the horizon, will be loathe to miss out on this chance.