'Not easy, but not impossible': After Tour of the Alps stage win, Pello Bilbao 'dreams' of Giro d'Italia leader's jersey

Bahrain-Victorious rider sprints to victory after teamworks brings the race back together

Pello Bilbao
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For much of Tuesday's Tour of the Alps stage, it looked like the breakaway was going to stay away until the finish.

Ten riders went clear on the first climb of the day, which began almost immediately from the stage start in San Martino di Castrozza; the group included big hitters like Pavel Sivakov, Miguel Ángel López, and Michael Storer. Storer and Sivakov, in fact, stayed away until under 10km to go, when they were swept up by the onrushing peloton in the final descent into Lana.

Not that Pello Bilbao, the day's eventual winner, was overly worried. He and his Bahrain-Victorious team knew they had the strength to catch the leaders out front.

"We knew that the stage was going to be more difficult in the beginning than in the end, but we didn’t expect such a big movement in the beginning," Bilbao said post-stage. "We were patient, we were confident in this. Maybe it was difficult to believe that we were going to catch, but we just kept riding at a good pace and every single rider worked their best. 

"From the beginning to the end it was impressive to see four Bahrain Victorious riders finish in such a small group. They still had good legs to put me in a good place for the sprint."

The Basque rider climbed into the leader's jersey as a result. The last two editions have been won by the rider who won stage two of this race; Sivakov in 2019 and Simon Yates in 2021, but Bilbao is not thinking so far ahead.

Instead, he is basking in the enjoyment of a win made all the sweeter by the fact it was delivered by the team.

"We showed strength, but also two days we were spending a lot of energy, and there are still three important days to come," he said. "Every day we will race like a classic, going for the stage victory. 

"Today I am super proud of this victory, I enjoy it in a special way when we demonstrate that cycling is a team sport. It was impossible to arrive here without the team, all six riders."

Asked if whether, aged 32, this is the best Bilbao we have seen so far, the Bahrain rider replied "maybe" it is the best shape he has ever been in.

"I think I’ve progressed steadily over the years, I’ve grown year by year," he said. "Maybe yes this is the best shape I’m ever in."

Bahrain-Victorious have Bilbao and Santiago Buitrago in the top ten on general classification, and Mikel Landa and Herman Pernsteiner just outside it.

"All in all, my team-mates are happy to help and I’m happy to help them too," Bilbao said. "There will come a time when I will be the one to work for the others, and I won’t back down."

As for the future, Bilbao admitted that the maglia rosa, the leader's jersey at the Giro d'Italia, would be a "dream". Rather humbly, he said he was just a "good regular rider".

"I've always taken part in the Giro in the last few years, it’s a race that I’ve loved but haven’t succeeded in," he said, although he has won two stages and finished eighth overall.

"As a rider, I’m not sure it’s going to be that easy because I’m not the strongest against the clock, I’m not the strongest climber. I’m a good regular rider, but I don’t think it would be that easy in the first place. Not easy, but not impossible."

It will be easier with the might of Bahrain-Victorious behind him, and easier to make those dreams come true if Bilbao keeps up his impressive form on mountainous stages, as we saw on Tuesday. For now, though, there is the question of a lot more climbing this week.

"The following three stages will be harder and harder," Bilbao said. "Ineos for sure will be very dangerous, they have shown that they can ride aggressively this season."

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