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After all the late starters had been set back by heavy rain and snow, Izagirre crushed the opposition in the Tour de Romandie prologue, beating Dumoulin by seconds and Kwiatkowski by seven seconds; the Basque takes the lead

Photo: Movistar










26.04.2016 @ 18:24 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ion Izagirre proved that it is not all about Nairo Quintana at the Movistar team in the Tour de Romandie as he rode to a dominant victory in the technical and hilly 3.95km prologue. Having stopped the clock in 5.33, he put a massive six seconds into Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) who like the rest of the late starters was hampered by heavy rain that caused several crashes on the slippery and technical descent. Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) was one second further adrift in third.


Going into the Tour de Romandie, most of the attention in the Movistar team has been focused on Nairo Quintana who is ready to take on Chris Froome in their final battle before the Tour de France. That has allowed Ion Izagirre to fly under the radar but after today’s opening prologue it is evident that the Spanish team has more than one card to play.


Izagirre has done nothing to hide that he is aiming for the one-week stage races this year and he proved his class by taking fifth in Paris-Nice. That made him one of the favourite for the Vuelta al Pais Vasco where he had placed third one year earlier but as he fell ill on the eve of the race he never got the chance to show what he could do.


Izagirre proved that he was back on form by playing a key role for Alejandro Valverde in the Ardennes and that made him ambitious for this week’s race in Romandie. Today he proved that he ready to share the leadership with Quintana as he rode to a dominant win in the 3.95 prologue.


The opener was a difficult challenge as it included a short climb and a technical descent, meaning that it was a stage for explosive riders more than for specialists. That suited Izagirre well and he was in a class of his own when he powered across the line in a time that was a massive seven seconds faster than the previous mark set by Michal Kwiatkowski at a time when the best were separated by mere seconds.


Izagirre knew that his dominant ride gave him a good chance to go for glory, especially as he had flown down the technical descent. He gained confidence by seeing strong contenders like Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Geraint Thomas (Sky) both miss out despite solid rides that allowed them to finish in the top 10.


The big challenge was always going to be Tom Dumoulin who was the pre-stage favourite but just as the Dutchman had hit the course, the weather gods decided to completely change everything. Heavy rain started to fall and with such a tricky descent, that made it completely impossible for the late starters to challenge Izagirre.


Dumoulin showed good form by posting the sixth best time at the top of the climb and he actually did a good descent in the difficult conditions but in the end, he missed out by six seconds. As the rain intensified, it became apparent that no one would be able to challenge Izagirre who could start his celebration early.


The dangerous conditions caused both Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) who had both been in the top 10 at the top of the climb, to crash and so it was no surprise that the late GC riders all opted for safety. Richie Porte (BMC), Chris Froome (Sky), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) and Simon Spilak (Katusha) who rode very strongly on the climb, were the final four starters but all lost a lot of time, 37, 26, 27 and 20 seconds respectively.


In fact, it was Izagirre’s teammate Nairo Quintana who did best of the late starters. Having been fourth at the top of the climb, he did an excellent descent to finish 18th, losing just 16 seconds to his teammates and getting his race off to a great start.


Among the GC riders, it was the early starters who emerged as the winners. Dumoulin was second, Thomas fourth, van Garderen ninth, Thibaut Pinot 11th and Diego Rosa 15th, meaning that they all gained time on some of their biggest rivals. However, it was youngster Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) who got most attention as he rode to a surprise 8th and was the fastest rider on the climb.


Izagirre is of course the first leader of the race and will wear the yellow jersey tomorrow. He will try to defend his position in the hilly second stage which includes an early category 2 climb and three category 3 climbs in the second half. The final challenge comes 28.8km from the finish and from there it is mainly descending and flat, meaning that a reduced bunch sprint is the expected outcome.


A technical opener

The 70th edition of the Tour de Romandie kicked off with a 3.95km prologue in the city of La Chaux-de-Fonds. It was a complicated affair that consisted of a short, flat stretch, a climb, a technical descent and another flat section and there were several turns which made it very tricky.


As expected, it was cold when Mark McNally (Wanty) rolled down the ramp as the first rider but luckily it wasn’t raining as it had been forecasted. He stopped the clock in 6.27 to set an early mark but he as quickly knocked out of the hot seat by Roland Thalmann (Roth) who was 16 seconds faster.


Best time for Bookwalter

Pierre Latour (Ag2r) was the first GC rider on the course and he showed that it was a course for climbers as he shaved another 2 seconds off the best time but it was another French climber who became the first rider to go below the 6-minute mark. Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) posted a time of 5.56 to beat Latur by 13 seconds.


Michael Hepburn (Orica-GreenEDGE) suffered on the hilly course and had to settle for second with a time of 6.02 before Brent Bookwalter (BMC) proved that he was once a prologue specialist by posting a new best time of 5.51. Alex Peters (Sky) had a fine ride to take fourth while defending champion Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) could only manage fifth with 6.03.


Impey takes the lead

It was a frustrating near-miss for Romain Bardet (Ag2r) who was just fractions of a second slower than Bookwalter while Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) had a disastrous ride with 6.37. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) did much better as he slotted into third with 5.53.


Bookwalter was finally beaten when Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) stopped the clock in 5.46 to go five seconds faster. He came under threat from Dries Devenyns (IAM) who posted the fastest intermediate time but lost time on the descent, missing out on the lead by 15 seconds.


Moser moves into the hot seat

Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek) did really well to slot into the top 10 before Damien Howson made it a 1-2 for Orica-GreenEDGE by stopping the clock in 5.50. Winner Anacona (Movistar) also had a great ride to make it into the top 10 just like Davide Martinelli (Etixx-QuickStep) and Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff).


It was always evident that the technical course was tailor-made for Moreno Moser (Cannondale) and he lived up to expectations by shaving another four seconds off the mark with a time of 5.42. Jack Bobridge (Trek) handled the climb surprisingly well and slotted into 9th before Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEDGE) surprised most by posting the sixth best time. He was pushed into seventh less than one minute later when Andrey Amador (Movistar) showed that he is ready for the Giro by posting the third best time.


Izagirre takes the lead

Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) narrowly missed out on the top 10 before Marcel Wyss (IAM) and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) did well by moving into the top 10. Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) did even better as he posted a surprisingly good time to slot into seventh.


Moser’s time in the hot seat came to an end when Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) erased a four-second deficit at the time check to beat the Italian by a single second. Damiano Caruso (BMC) also did well by slotting into 11th as did Mikel Nieve (Sky) who posted the 22nd best time on a course that didn’t do him any favours.


Excellent ride by Vervaeke

Marco Marcato (Wanty) narrowly missed out on the top 10 after a solid ride on the climb before Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) surprised many by slotting into the top 10. However, it was Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) who was the next rider to make it into the top 10 with the 6th best time.


Suddenly, the good times came thick and fast. Reto Hollenstein (IAM) narrowly missed out on the lead with 5.44, good enough for third, and Davide Formolo (Cannondale) surprised a lot by slotting into 8th. However, it was Vervaeke that everybody was waiting for after he had crested the summit in the best time but at the finish he had to settle for fourth with 5.44.


Kwiatkowski takes the lead

Martijn Keizer (LottoNL-Jumbo) confirmed his status as a prologue specialist by taking fifth and he was just fractions of a second faster than Pinot. As opposed to this, there was no glory for TT talent Tom Bohli(BMC) who had to settle for 12th with 5.50.


Kwiatkowski was off the pace at the top of the climb but he did a marvelous descent to beat Izagirre by a single second and move into the hot seat. He held off challenges from Tobias Ludvigsson (Giant-Alpecin), Rosa and Mathias Frank (IAM) who all made it into the top 20 while Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale) had a bad ride with 5.59.


Izagirre crushes the opposition

Rafael Valls (Lotto Soudal) made it into the top 15, just like Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) but it was Izagirre that had caught the attention by posting the second best time on the climb. He did a fabulous descent to stop the clock in 5.33, shaving a massive seven seconds off Kwiatkowski’s time.


Van Garderen was the first threat but he had to settle for seventh while Thomas was closer with 5.40, good enough for third. Enrico Gasparotto (Wanty) was one of the final riders to finish in dry conditions, posting the 16th best time.


Dumoulin misses out

Dumoulin had been fast on the climb but as he tackled the wet roads, he had to settle for second and from there no one was close to Izagirre. Specialists like Ramunas Navarduaskas, Jerome Coppel and Luis Leon Sanchez were all better than six minutes but it was not enough to challenge for the best positions.


Kelderman and Albasini both set fast times at the intermediate check but crashes on the descent took them out of contention. Quintana managed to stay upright and was the best of the rest with 18th place while Bob Jungels, Froome, Porte, Majka and Spilak all opted for safety, crossing the line with times that were all far off the mark. 



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