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  “Recently, I have been pondering and thinking about my future with my entourage and most probably I will continue riding. I'm sure this isn't the last time I come here."

Photo: A.S.O.

ITZULIA BASQUE COUNTRY

RACE PROFILE
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NEWS
09.04.2016 @ 21:52 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) ended his spring campaign on a high by taking his fourth overall win in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco by winning the final time trial on a brutal course that included a climb with a gradient of more than 20%. Having crushed the opposition on the ascent, he lost some ground on the descent but still beat Nairo Quintana (Movistar) by 5 seconds. Overall leader Sergio Henao (Sky) was 18 seconds behind in third and slipped to second in the GC while Quintana moved into third.

 

We have gathered several reactions.

 

Contador puts retirement plans on hold after record win in Pais Vasco

Tinkoff leader Alberto Contador took the GC win at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco with an exceptional performance in the final day’s time trial that saw him take both the stage win and the overall GC. At the end of stage 6, Contador won the TT with a time of 29:13 – five seconds ahead of second place – and winning the race overall with a time of 22:44:43 – twelve seconds ahead of the next placed rider. The País Vasco becomes the first race Contador has won four times in his professional career, and with this victory he equals the record of wins at the famous Spanish race.

 

The final stage of the 2016 Vuelta al Pais Vasco may have been a time trial, but while there were some aero helmets, there were few time trial bikes to be seen on the course today. The 16.5km route, starting and finishing in Eibar was brutally steep in places and a technical descent and final kilometre meant riders had to have full control over their bikes on their way to the finish.

 

Going into the final day, Contador was second in the GC, six seconds behind the leader. After a hard week’s riding, where he showed confidence in attacking his rivals on some of the Vuelta’s steepest climbs, it was all going to come down to a race against the clock. After the week’s riding, Sport Director, Sean Yates, was clear of Contador’s challenge.

 

"It's been a long week, with the time trial looming at the end, and as we predicted it was always going to be the deciding stage of the race. Before this you have to bide your time, not lose time and take time where you can - this is exactly what Alberto and the team did here and it all came together today.”

 

On the day, weather conditions were wet, meaning there was potential for wheels to slip on the climbs with the riders out of the saddle, while on the descents, standing water and wet road markings made the conditions even more treacherous. Riders had the option of being cautious and potentially losing time, or pushing their bikes and their bike-handling skills to the limit and risk crashing. Contador was smooth and in control, although pushing hard, throughout the stage, summing up his ride from the finish.

 

"I rode cautiously and tried to avoid taking unnecessary risks and at some point I was close to losing the stage win. However, that was secondary and in the end, I also got that. I now have to rest and recover after an intense start to the season.”

 

Yates continued, discussing the Tinkoff leader’s ride over the tough stage.

 

"Alberto laid out his effort well today, he went really quick up the climb and had a good cushion there over the next riders over the summit going into the downhill - not only for the GC but for the stage too. Then when we saw Quintana was coming back he had to really go for it as we wanted the stage win along with the GC.”

 

With both the stage win and the GC taken care of, Contador was thankful for all the support he had received.

 

“The fans were crazy today at the time-trial. I consider the Basque fans to probably be the best in the world and since my amateur days I have strong links to this place. For me it was a pleasure racing and winning the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. It's a very hard race, one that is difficult to control and where a thousand things can happen. When I think about it, it still seems incredible that I won. I'd like to dedicate this victory to all the fans and to Oleg Tinkov for his support, his passion and for making this team a reality. This victory goes to him.”

 

After an exceptionally hard week’s racing, over one of the most mountainous stage races on the UC World Tour, Yates had nothing but praise for Contador and the team.

 

"He's in great shape and deserves this win after his second places in Algarve, Paris-Nice and Catalunya. We had a few injuries and illness coming into the race and lost three guys along the way but the team stayed solid. Things played into our favour this race, and never taking the leaders jersey worked for us, as we didn't have to ride and defend. And now the stage win is the icing on the cake.”

 

On the podium, celebrating his stage win, Contador made his trademark ‘El Pistolero’ salute, and pointed with pride at his Tinkoff jersey. The win was well-deserved, Yates concluded.

 

"It's Alberto's fourth win in this race, and as always he dedicated a lot of time and effort to be in great shape. The whole team is really happy with the result today."

 

While Contador had announced earlier in the season that 2016 would be his final year as a professional cyclist, this victory may well have delayed that decision.

 

“Recently, I have been pondering and thinking about my future with my entourage and most probably I will continue riding. I'm sure this isn't the last time I come here. To be honest, I don't like finishing second. After two second places in Paris-Nice and Catalanuya, this is a nice victory. However, I'm aware that the level of the peloton is always very high and there are strong rivals. However, it's good to finish this part of the season and go to a much-need rest with a victory."

 

"It's something that strikes, but since I announced that I would perhaps retire, it is amazing how many messages I have received about postponing my plans. After discussion with my family and my surroundings, I have come to the conclusion that I enjoy what I do and I have skipped the idea of ​​leaving cycling. I will continue doing what I like and one day I will retire without warning. I'd rather not set dates for retirement because ultimately I have to make the decision. I will go day by day, race by race, enjoying the affection of the fans. I like to compete and train.

 

"Now I see it differently, not because of today’s victory. I have been thinking about it for some time with the people in my team and my environment.

 

"When I do my training, it is to win. I don’t like second places. Paris-Nice was nice, as was the Volta, but I missed out by seconds. Now I won by a small margin. Before starting to prepare for the Tour I prefer to have a good taste.

 

"I'm excited, let's make a good team for the Tour. Oleg Tinkov is motivating and he wants to win the Tour It is his dream and I'm going to make the most of it.

 

"I won with patience . It was hard to control the race which has not given respite at any time. It was interesting that Sky wanted to control. I was not interested attacking from afar and they had to control the race. I bet on the time trial, I waited until the last day and it went well. I do not like doing so, but it was the best optio.

 

"I think I can improve a lot, I finished a first block of the early season. I'm at a good level. Now I will rest and then improve even more. I finished the first block physically and mentally fresh.”

 

Sergio Henao ready for the Ardennes: I am much better than last year

Sergio Henao gave everything he had on the concluding stage at the Tour of the Basque Country, finishing third in the hilly time trial to seal second place overall.  

 

Henao had began the day in the yellow jersey and was the final rider to roll down the start ramp in Eibar. The Colombian clocked the third fastest time of the day at the intermediate time split, and defended that position all the way to the line.

 

The 28 year old completed the 16.5km course in a time of 29 minutes and 31 seconds which proved just 18 seconds down on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff)'s winning ride. Those results meant Henao missed out on the overall victory to Contador by just 12 seconds, although he did take the points jersey and Team Sky also emerged top of the team classification.

 

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) took second place on the stage, despite making a mid-race bike change, and secured the remaining spot on the overall podium.

 

After the stage, Henao was keen to stress the positives and believes the team can be proud of their efforts over the six stages.

 

He told TeamSky.com: "I'm happy with my performance this week. OK, I didn't win the overall, but I gave 100% right from the start.

 

"I tried to go with a different tactic today - I held back slightly on the climb and then really pushed it over the second half of the course. Contador was super strong though and he deserved his win.

 

"We can be pleased with our performance as a team as well this week. We were strong and every rider played his part. The fact that we won the team classification shows this, and of course we also got a stage win, and topped the points classification.

 

"I'm back on the podium and am second again, but I'm proud of what I've done and how I trained.

 

"The climb was very hard and then the descent, with the rain, was very dangerous. Contador has also taken risks, that's his way of riding. He is a great rider.

 

"Mr. Alberto Contador is a great opponent."

 

Contador's ride proves he is nearing peak condition in the lead up to the Grand Tours, and Henao's performance does just the same.

 

Stage two winner Mikel Landa can also draw huge confidence as he continues his return to form, the Spaniard finished 12th on GC after taking 28th place on Sunday.

 

Elsewhere, Sebastian Henao ended the stage in an impressive 15th place, with David Lopez in 49th.

 

Henao is now looking ahead to the Ardennes Classics, which start with the Amstel Gold Race on Sunday 17 April, and he is going into those races with his head held high.

 

He added: "They are among my main goals for this season and I feel far stronger right now than I did at this point last year. Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege both suit me and Liege in particular is a race I particularly love."

 

Happy Nairo Quintana: I have recovered from my illness much faster than expected

With courage, without any fear or anything to lose, Nairo Quintana and the Movistar Team grabbed another prestigious podium into a WorldTour stage race this 2016 season. The Colombian climber jumped from sixth to third overall in the Vuelta al País Vasco, following a sensational performance in the TT showdown around Eibar (16.5km), a race covered under infamous weather conditions, including two tough climbs - Usartza, through roads opposite to the race's traditional finish in Arrate, plus a difficult urban slope 3km from the end - plus a fast, tricky descent where the telephone squad's leader took all risks he reasonably could.

 

The early time gaps over Arrate already made clear that Quintana was on road to the podium - putting almost one minute into Rodríguez (KAT), Sánchez (BMC) and Pinot (FDJ), the three man he contested his podium place with - as he rode 23" behind Contador (TNK). However, a great descent by the 26-year-old from Boyacá and tactical bravery, by switching his road bike to a Canyon Speedmax TT machine, in order to keep improving over the final 3km of flat roads, allowed him to finish only 5" behind the day's winner, joining Contador and fellow Colombian Sergio Henao (SKY) on the race podium. Quite an exploit, after the virus he suffered following his brilliant Volta a Catalunya victory and following the DNS by team-mates Gorka and Ion Izagirre, while in amazing form.

 

"It's a nice finish for us in this race - clearly a progression from where we were at on Monday,” he said. “Before the start I was still feeling not quite well, due to the virus which affected most within the team, and also missing two valuable team-mates in the Izagirre brothers. That really changed our way to tackle the race and look for our chances. Seeing we're now on the overall podium on Saturday, knowing that I recovered way faster than we all expected, is a great feeling, a boost in our morale before the big, upcoming goals.

 

"We did quite a good time trial, though we're obviously a bit sad since we couldn't win it. We took a strong gamble with that bike chance, hoping we could ride faster in the final stretch, and even though it helped, it wasn't enough for the win. It's still worth as we couldn't leave this race without trying something different, and this test will be useful for the future. We didn't win the race, Alberto was stronger this time, but we were close and we're happy about that."

 

"I did a great time trial, but I could not win. Alberto Contador was very strong. I was close and I was on the podium. For me, it is a good balance, but the week has been tough since we started the race without the Izaguirre brothers.

 

"Without changing bikes, I do not know if I'd won. I've tried, and it's something we have to consider again

 

"I finished the race in a better position than I waslast Monday. I was affected by the virus that hit a few of us, but it's nice to finish well. I was able to recover quickly and I think every time I'm closer to be ready to fight for the big goals this season.”

 

Pinot pleased with descending progress in wet Basque time trial

The fears of Yvon Madiot and Thibaut Pinot had a reason. The course of the final stage of the Tour of the Basque Country favoured punchers and climbers more than riders who can keep a steady pace. The leader of the FDJ team took sixth place in the stage and the final fourth place which is his best result in the Basque race.

 

"Thibaut did a good time trial and everything was decided on the first climb which was steep and for puncheurs," Madiot said. "At the top Thibaut was a minute behind Contador, the winner. At the finish, he is only 1'10 '' behind and that means he is on a par with him. Thibaut did a beautiful descent, he did nothing wrong."

 

Nairo Quintana took the opportunity to pass Pinot in the general classification and so it was another fourth places after those obtained at the 2015 edition of Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour de Romandie and Tour de Suisse.

 

"I could not do much better. When I look at my watts, I see that I was at my maximum so I'm in my place. I did ​​a great week . It's been difficult with the rain and cold, only the climb of Arrate (Friday) really suited me. "

 

“My place in the time trial is good but the differences are significant,” he told L’Equipe. “Under these conditions, even if I'm not on the podium, I have nothing to regret. The other satisfactions are the descents. I had no problems in the rain. Today, I only lost 10 seconds to Contador in the long descent. Although I am not suited to this race, I am never bored here. It'll take off some pressure for the Tour de Romandie.”

 

The Tour de Romandie is his biggest goal for the spring.

 

Amazing time trial by Yates at the end of disappointing race for Orica-GreenEDGE

ORICA-GreenEDGE completed the six-day stage race Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vascotoday with Briton Adam Yates the team’s best placed rider on the overall general classification in 32nd place.

 

Yates produced an excellent performance in the individual time trial to place fourth on the day with a time of 30:06” for the 16.5kilometre course. The race was won by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).

 

A difficult week unfolded in the Basque hills for the team after losing race contender Simon Yates to a heavy crash on the queen stage. Former Australian National road race champion Simon Gerrans twice came close to stage victories with third on the opening stage and second on stage three.

 

Sport director Neil Stephens acknowledged that it had been a tough week for the team.

 

“The mountainous route always makes it a hard race,” said Stephens. “Everybody had to race in the same conditions and unfortunately we suffered on a couple of stages.

 

“It was a shame that we lost Simon (Yates) when we did and of course Simon (Gerrans) went close a couple of times but we want and expect more of ourselves from these kind of races.”

 

“Adam (Yates) produced a fantastic ride today,” continued Stephens. “It’s the first day that he felt close to 100% and he really went for it. The boys have been great throughout the week, I can’t fault their attitude or their work ethic.

 

“We will look forward to the upcoming races now, spring is always a busy period and we have objectives that we want to realise. Once again I’d like to thank the fans who have been superb all the way through the race.”

 

Joaquim Rodriguez: Now I am close to 100%

A challenging climbing course provided the final action in the 54th Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco on Saturday with a 16,5 km individual time trial in Eibar. Team KATUSHA’s Joaquim Rodriguez fought for a place on the podium and ended up in fifth place overall, while teammate Simon Špilak was close behind in eighth.

 

”It was a demanding and hard climb. I liked the climb, but it was also a dangerous descent on the slippery roads because of the rain. But, I felt really good. In the end, some of my rivals were stronger, but, overall I have a good feeling about this País Vasco. I am close to 100% condition now. This race was very useful for the upcoming Ardennes. My confidence is there, and also the team is good. We have made our last adjustments – we’ve dotted the ‘I’s’ and crossed the ‘T’s’,” said team leader Joaquim Rodriguez.

 

Strong results for Team KATUSHA put Rodriguez in 8th (+1.16), Jurgen van den Broeck at eleventh (+1.29) and Simon was 12th at 1.31. Contador pulled on the final leader’s jersey by 12-seconds to Henao and 37-seconds to Quintna. Rodriguez was fifth at +1.22 and Špilak was 8th at +2.47, making it two in the top 8 for KATUSHA.

 

”We came here to fight for position in this race. We knew Joaquim was not in his top shape yet, but we saw from Cataluñya that his condition was growing, and here we saw more of the same. Every day he was better and better. In the end, he finished in fifth place and that is a good result. He began the TT fighting for first place, but without being here in his top shape that was not possible today. He leaves here in much better condition. Simon also finished eighth. Two riders in the top ten is very good. Also, the entire team rode well here – fighting every day to be in the front. It was a good week for us,” said team director José Azevedo.

Simon Spilak looks to Romandie after difficult start to the season

”I did my best today. The race was hard, but I think I did a good race. The goal today was to enter top 10 and I am 8th, so OK. I had some bad luck at the start of the season. Now I feel my form is coming. I hope, in the Tour of Romandie I will be much better. We will see,” said Simon Špilak.

 

Samuel Sanchez: Look at the riders who are ahead of me

A tough 16.5km individual time trial has capped off the 2016 Vuelta al Pais Vasco, seeing Samuel Sánchez finish fifth on the stage and sixth on General Classification.

 

The six-stage race saw Sánchez take his first individual win in three years when he stormed home to victory on stage 4.

 

“I’m so, so happy,” he said. “To get fifth in such a hard time trial really means a lot to me. When I look at the final GC standing I have the best riders in the world in front of me. It was a great week of racing for me.

 

“My results give me a lot of confidence going into the Ardennes and I’m hoping for a good result. They’re one-day races so completely different kinds of races. For now my objective for the next week is rest and recover well after six hard days of racing and bad weather.”

 

Yvon Ledanois, Sports Director, said:

 

“When we started the day our objective was to keep Samuel in the top five on GC. He slipped into sixth place but when you look at the results he did a really good job. Today Quintana did an amazing time trial and gained some places to be in the top five. But for Samuel to get fifth in the time trial and sixth overall is a really good result and I’m very happy.

 

“Samuel is now ready for his next races and he is in top shape. I think this is the best form we have seen him in, in the last three years and he is ready and motivated to be a leader for the younger guys. He gave 300% in the time trial today and we walk away happy with a stage win and sixth on GC.”

 

Rui Costa left frustrated by mechanical in Basque time trial

Rui Costa finished 7th in both the stage and the GC.

 

"Rui was very good , he was strong and never gave signs of fading,” sports director Marzano said. “His value emerges in these tests where the strength and the character are tested to the maximum. We are pleased to have brought home a good result in the top 10 of the GC.

 

“The day did not go me well,” Costa wrote in his diary. “During my time trial, I had to change my bike which not working properly. I couldn’t get on the big ring. I informed my director about this immediate problem, but the change of bike and the mechanical itself made ​​me lose a few seconds. I feel I could have done even better if I had not had this incident. But our sport is also made ​​of unforeseen hazards and today I hit me me. Despite this setback, I make a very positive assessment of this Tour of the Basque Country. Again I finished in the top-10, with the big names in world cycling that are here. I leaves me very satisfied and motivated for the next races.

“The next challenge is already on Sunday, the 17th, at the Amstel Gold Race, the first of three Ardennes Classics that I will do.”
 

Costa’s young teammate Simone Petilli did well to finish 29th.

 

"Simone has demonstrated once again to be a young talent with thom we can work well in view of the future,” Marzano said. “I think that he is one of our young guys who are best suited to the stages races, being complete and very methodical. We return from the Basque Country happy with his performance.”

 

Breakthrough for Lawson Craddock in the Basque Country

American Lawson Craddock rode to ninth-place finish in one of the season’s roughest races, the Vuelta al País Vasco.
 
Craddock entered the race’s final day — an uphill time trial — in seventh overall and waged a gritty campaign against the clock in the rain to retain a top 10 on the general classification. He finished ninth overall on GC, 2:52 behind the victor, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). Craddock, 24, won the best young rider classification by 23 seconds over Lotto-Soudal’s Louis Vervaeke.
 
“Ninth place overall at Pais-Vasco is something that I can take a lot of positives from, but at the moment I'm left wanting more,” Craddock said. “To slip a few spots on the final day my initial reaction is disappointment, but in a few days I think I can be proud of the steps that I have taken. My main goal this spring was to consistently ride at a very high level, and I think that is something that I have been able to do. At this point now, I've just got to focus on recovering from this race and making sure I hit the Ardennes Classics in the best possible condition I can. With the level that I have been riding at, I think I can help the team perform at a really high level.”
 
Much of the Basque race was contested in driving rain upon steep, narrow climbs. The result is a nod to Craddock’s determination and versatility. Traditionally a rider who fares well in heat, the Texan showed poise in the rain all week. He finished in the top 10 on two difficult climbing stages, staying with the sport’s best.
 
Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters praised Craddock for his determination during the race and for his dedication in the offseason.
 
"Ninth place in the toughest week long race out there is a great step forward for a guy who’s going to have an extraordinary career as a bike rider,” Vaughters said.
 
Juan Manuel Gárate, in his first season as a director with Cannondale Pro Cycling, was pleased with the team’s effort throughout the week.
 
“The team did a great job,” said Gárate. We knew from the first day that Lawson could do a really good ride. But we were not putting pressure on him. We let him know the race was one of the most important one-week races of the year. We said to him that he has to enjoy the race… and it’s what he did, really. We rode really aggressive. Really competitive. It was a really good race.”
 
“The weather was super bad. Raining. Cold. They were so cold, but they were always competitive. They came into the bus every day with good spirits, a good atmosphere. No one was complaining about the weather,” Gárate added.
 
Saturday’s time trial was a complicated, slippery test; a steep ramp, treacherous descent, and lengthy flat section tested a weary peloton.
 
Garate’s last bit of advice for Craddock? “I said to him, on the steepest part of the climb, he has to arrive on the top with something in the legs. And that’s what he did.”
 
Craddock, for his part, wanted a bit more from the stage. On the day he finished 25th.
 
“Today wasn't a traditional TT,” explained Craddock. “With a 4-kilometer climb that had a lot of sections over 20 percent, it was going to be tough no matter what. The technical descent that followed was also going to be a big challenge in the rain. Unfortunately, it wasn't the best day for me. I laid it all out on the line, but it wasn't quite the result I was looking for.”
 
On the whole, the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team was consistent and morale remained high all week, in spite of the rain. The result was an important one for a team that’s battled through sickness early this season.
 
“This week felt really good to come out and race,” Craddock said. “From the start, we truly raced like a team and it was special to be a part of. The overall result that we earned was due to the commitment that we showed to each other. With everything that the team has been through this spring it's really nice to see things start to come together. Every race has gotten better and better and it's really exciting to look towards the future races.

 

Diego Rosa wins mountains jersey in the Basque Country

“This polka dot Jersey is a great recognition for me and I’m so happy to have conquered this special ranking,” said Diego Rosa after the end of the ITT.

 

“Honestly, when I attacked yesterday, my focus was on an attempt to win the stage and I didn’t think about the mountains classification. Then, due the long solo with all those climbs, I conquered it with just 2 points of an advantage.”

 

This edition of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco has been positive for the Astana Pro Team, with two stage victories: on the first stage with Luis Leon Sanchez (who also took the GC leader’s jersey worn in the second stage) and on the fifth stage with Diego Rosa (after almost 130km of solo escape).

 

Diego Rosa also conquered the final Polka Dot Jersey.

 

The only negative note for the Astana Pro Team is the bad luck that affected captain Fabio Aru, involved in a crash at km 89 of the fifth stage and forced to abandon the race 25km later.

 

Wilco Kelderman hampered by injuries in Basque time trial

Wilco Kelderman finished 10th overall in the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco on Saturday in Spain. The Team LottoNL-Jumbo Dutchman placed 30th in the closing time trial, which was good enough to hold his spot in the top 10. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) won the time trial and the general classification.

 

“I had to push through my limits today,” explained Kelderman. “It was a very tough stage, with a steep climb in it. I wasn’t strong on that climb and felt some pain from yesterday’s crash. I have a wound on my knee and some bruises because of that crash, which stays with you after such hard stage. I was able to finish my time trial strong, fortunately, so I finished top 10. That’s the most important thing this week. I showed a great level, which I can build on.”

 

Sports Director Addy Engels looked back on a beautiful week.

 

“It was our target to finish top 10,” he said. “The team did a good job and it’s great to see that we were there in the most important moments. Wilco had to give it all to finish 10th. It looked like he wasn’t going to make it halfway into his race, but the second part for him was strong.

 

“Wilco was one of the best during the second stage this week. He was steady in yesterday’s queen stage, but a little weaker today. The most important thing is that he delivered a good result.

 

“Robert Gesink was strong this week, as well, until the weather took it’s toll, yesterday. This week’s performance will give him confidence for the Ardennes Classics next week.”

 

Pello Bilbao: I never expected to go for GC in such a competitive race

Vuelta al País Vasco concluded this Saturday afternoon with a short but very hard and steep 16.5 km individual time trial in Eibar. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) took the stage win and won the race overall. Caja Rural - Seguros RGA's Pello Bilbao rode to 10th place, netting his second top10 place in the race after finishing eight on stage 3. In the general classification, Bilbao finished in 17th place, securing yet another strong overall result for the team in one of the hardest races on the calendar.
 
Pello Bilbao said: ”This is the best time trial I’ve ever done. I didn’t want to take any risks on the wet descent, but I could hear, over the radio, that I had a good time, so I gave it my all. At the beginning of the race, I didn’t plan to go for the overall. My focus was on stage wins. I’ve done well in the GC in the past, finishing sixth overall in Vuelta a Burgos, but never in a World Tour race with such a strong line up as this one. I’m very pleased with my performances this week, being able to stay in the front group with the best riders on the climbs. I finish this Vuelta al País Vasco with very good legs, which motivates me even further for my upcoming races”.
 
Riding on home soil in the Basque Country, the Caja Rural - Seguros RGA riders have been very active every day of the race, attacking and being prominent protagonists in most stages, while showing off the green colors of the team. Neo-pro Jonathan Lastra took the KOM jersey on the first day of racing, making his World Tour debut unforgettable.
 
Lastra said: “This World Tour debut has been a beautiful experience for me. Especially the first day, when I was in the breakaway and finished the day on the podium in the KOM jersey. I didn’t know how my body would respond to such a high pace in race like this but I’m very satisfied with the outcome. The last two days have been very good. In particular the Queen Stage where I had great legs. I’ve proven to myself that I can compete at this level and now I’m looking forward to my next races with a lot of optimism”.
 
The next appointment for Caja Rural - Seguros RGA is Klasika Primavera de Amorebieta, which takes place this Sunday. The team will line up with the following eight riders: Hugh Carthy, Jaime Rosón, Ricardo Vilela, Javier Aramendia, Carlos Barbero, Sergio Pardilla, Diego Rubio and Pello Bilbao who won the race in 2014 and hopes to repeat that performance this year.

 

Louis Vervaeke frustrated to miss out on top 10 by one second

Louis Vervaeke rode very strongly and was seventeenth in the closing time trial. Because of this performance Vervaeke won a few places on GC. Eventually he finished in eleventh place at 3’15”.

 

Lotto Soudal returns to Belgium without a stage win but looks back on a very good week in the North of Spain. Tim Wellens, Sander Armée and Maxime Monfort showed themselves by joining a breakaway. Louis Vervaeke got the chance to aim for a good position on GC for the first time and he did a fantastic job. The strong performances from him and the team during last week resulted in a nice eleventh place. Because of that the 22-year old Vervaeke has proved that he’s able to compete with the better climbers in the peloton.

 

Vervaeke said: “If someone would have told me that I would finish in 11th place at the Vuelta al País Vasco this year, I would have been very happy to hear that. However, now that the race is over, when I reflect back on it, I am admittedly a little disappointed that I was only one second away from making the top ten in the general classification. It was very close and it really came down to the wire in the time trial, but in the end, I am happy with the way I raced this week.

 

“I managed to keep up there in the mountainous stages, and I think that the team did fantastic work for me this week. It was the first time that I had the chance within the team to go for the general classification, and I wanted to prove something after being given this opportunity. To have the other riders in the team support me like they did was a great experience.

 

“The aim that we came here with was to achieve a top ten result, and it would have been a nice way to end the race. My legs were feeling really good on the rollers this morning, and I thought it would be possible to get the result after the time trial today, so I wanted to give it everything to see if I could achieve that. Unfortunately I missed out by the slimmest of margins, so to be one second off making the top ten is a bit disappointing. But I know that I did my best. It is a difficult race that attracts some of the best riders in the world, so given that fact, I am satisfied with 11th place overall. At the end of the race, I can say that I am happy with the way that the team and I raced today and also throughout the whole week.”

 

Alexis Vuillermoz ready for the Ardennes after tough week in Spain

Alexis Vuillermoz finished 15th overall.

 

“After a good recovery last week following a 5th place overall at Creiterium International, I finish a satisfactory 15th in the Basque Country. It was a grueling week with racing in the rain and cold. This becomes my usual place in the WorldTour in these conditions! Next races are the Ardennes classics,” he said.

 

Fabio Felline on track for the Ardennes after good week in the Basque Country

Vuelta al Pais Vasco ended Saturday with a rain-soaked 16.5-kilometer time trial tailored to the pure climbers to decide the overall podium.

 

The course included a steep four-kilometer climb with pitches up to 20 percent, followed by a tricky, wet downhill and technical turns in the final kilometers and there were no fast, aero machines in sight.  

 

In fact, only one rider, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), opted for a bike change; most used standard road bikes, including Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) who claimed the win in the race against the clock, and also cemented the overall victory of the six-day race.

 

Fabio Felline was the highest placed rider from Trek-Segafredo and set the quickest time when he crossed the line in 30 minutes and 56 seconds.  But with the top of the order still to ride on a course suited to the overall contenders, Felline ended in 16th place (+1'43").

 

Overall, it was a positive week and I missed a victory, but not for a lot.

 

Felline said: "I did the maximum I could, and I didn't make any mistakes. I am good in the climbs, but I am not a pure climber. The downhill was wet, so it was impossible to make up the difference there unless you want to take big risks. 

 

"Overall, it was a positive week and I missed a victory, but not for a lot. The sensations for me are good now, and I am looking forward to the Ardennes Classics."

 

It was a brutal week of racing with little to no flat roads under mostly cold and wet conditions. Felline proved he is back to top form and sprinted to third and fourth places in two stages after breakaways narrowly held on for the wins. 

 

Although Trek-Segafredo did not achieve a top overall GC position (Bauke Mollema was the highest in 18th place) they depart the tough Basque Country race with added value -  a race this harsh will either destroy you or make you stronger.  

 

Bring on the Ardennes!

 

Dimension Data pleased with results in the Basque Country

It was no surprise when the climbers populated the top of the results sheet but Steve Cummings and Serge Pauwels both gave the hill a good bash for Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka.

 

When Cummings crossed the line, he had the 3rd fastest time of the day but as the big general classification contenders came home, the Brit slowly got dislodged from his high placing. Eventually Cummings would end in 31st position, 2'07" behind Contador. Pauwels also did a solid ride, ending with a time just 3 seconds off of his teammate.

 

In the overall general classification, Pauwels managed to climb up into the top 20 and would end this very difficult edition of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco in 19th place for the African Team.

Alex Sans Vega - Sport Director – said:
 

“It was a good week for us. We were able to achieve a stage win which was our goal. We have to be very proud of that as this is probably the hardest 1-week race in the World Tour calendar. We also had Serge in the top 20 in the GC with all the big GC guys here, there was a lot of quality. The rest of the guys did well too, if it weren't for our 3 guys just missing the time cut yesterday we would have finished with all 8 guys. All in all, it was a good week. The guys came out of the week in good shape and healthy so now can look forward to the next races.”

 

Difficult time trial for Giant-Alpecin in Pais Vasco

For Giant-Alpecin, Fredrik Ludvigsson was 34th. The other two remaining riders in the race, Caleb Fairly and Sam Oomen, finished in 58th and 92th position respectively. Overall Oomen was the highest placed in the general classification 36th place.

 

The time trial followed a difficult stage for the team on Friday where the team were reduced to just three riders after a mixture of illness and injuries took their toll during the tough queen stage yesterday.

 

Coach Aike Visbeek said: “It was an extremely difficult time trial today with steep section of climbing for the riders. Fredrik and Sam went full gas but the weather played an important role today and that can be crucial for time differences.”

 

Stefan Denifl earns leadership role for the Ardennes with great rider in Spain

“We knew that a difficult week loomed ahead of us when we started,” IAM  directeur sportif Kjell Carlström said.  “The Tour of the Basque Country is an extremely demanding race. We came without a rider for the general classification, so our goal was to be always on the offensive.  I am satisfied because we have respected that plan, and were on the attack every day.  Thanks especially to Stefan Denifl, who was in the breakaway four straight days in a row, we even were able to have control of the mountains jersey for much of the race.  Unfortunately, we missed out on winning the jersey by just two points.  Overall, our riders were able to accomplish a significant amount of work, which will be useful for the upcoming Ardennes classics.  Although it’s very testing, the Tour of the Basque Country has always been a great race to come to in order to optimize your physical condition before the main objectives later in April.”

 

“I am very satisfied with the way Stefan performed this week,” Kjell Carlström continued.  “Now we can definitely say that he has found a very high level of form again.  He will definitely be one of our protected guys for the Ardennes classics.”

 

“This week has been very important for me,” Stefan Denifl explained.  “Taking part in the breakaways allowed me to regain some confidence.  It would have been perfect if I could have also walked away with the mountains jersey as the best climber.  But apart from that, I finished the Tour of the Basque Country with a sense of satisfaction.”

 

385: That is the number of kilometers that Stefan Denifl spent in the breakaways this week.  Of the six stages, the Austrian climber worked at the head of the race for four consecutive days.

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