British time trial champion Ethan Hayter earned his first victory of the season on stage one of Itzulia Basque Country, outkicking the pack into the town of Labastida.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider, set up by his team-mate Omar Fraile, was the first to launch his sprint on the uphill finish, and held off Mauro Schmid (Soudal Quick-Step) and Jon Aberasturi (Trek-Segafredo) to the line.
Hayter’s victory comes just two months after he broke his collarbone in a crash at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, which derailed his early-season calendar and forced him to miss the European Track Championships.
“It takes a bit of time to come back,” Hayter told the media after his victory in Spain. “[The Volta a] Catalunya was really hard and I was going alright, but actually those guys [Primož Roglič and Remco Evenepoel] were flying. It’s really nice to come here and pay my team back for what they’ve been doing for me.”
Recounting the final kilometres of Monday's 165.4km stage from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Labastida, Hayter revealed that things almost didn’t go to plan. “I actually went through a bad patch,” he said. “I think maybe I didn’t drink quite enough or something and I was really struggling.
“Luckily I got back to the guys, they were obviously in the perfect position and there was crosswind. It wasn’t really strong, but when you’re going that speed, it makes a difference.”
“My team really backed me even after I wasn’t amazing in Catalunya, but I’ve stepped up I think and they were all in for me today. I’ve just got to thank them.”
Asked if he is back to his top form, Hayter said: “I still think I’m getting better. I was quite sick last week, well, not sick, I had a cold, I think everyone was super tired from Catalunya. I had a lot of recovery and hopefully keep getting better every race.”
The Brit will wear the yellow jersey as the race leader on Tuesday’s second stage, which heads north east from Viana to Leitza. Among those also present at the hilly, six-day event are David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Enric Mas (Movistar), Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and last year's Itzulia winner Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers), none of whom lost time on stage one.
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