It was too small prize for Movistar Team as the squad excelled in the Queen stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco, finishing atop the Cat. 1 Alto de Arrate on Thursday after tackling six other categorized climbs. Xavi Tondo was closer than ever to his second victory of the season after being the strongest in the final ascent, where he attacked alongside Fränk Schleck with 5.5km remaining.
The Catalan rider left the company of the Luxembourgish rider one kilometer later with strong pedalling and was walking for what seemed to be a secure victory. However, the strong punch into the favourites’ group and the 2km final descent into the Sanctuary, holding the finish, took down the 5-second gap Tondo had at the summit, the Spaniard being caught into the final kilometer. Samuel Sánchez eventually took the victory as the fastest into a 10-rider group with Tondo, Intxausti and David López, who now sit in 6th, 8th and 9th overall as the telephone squad, which made some moves in the first ascent to Ixua with Chente García Acosta y David Arroyo, is ruling the teams’ overall with almost five minutes over the nearest pursuers.
Xavi Tondo: “There’s nothing to complain about when you give everything you have. Obviously I saw the victory coming, but there were some important riders behind and we couldn’t make it. We knew we had to play our cards from the foot of the climb since we had many chances, and that’s how we did. I didn’t talk with Schleck there, you only think of riding full-gas there. We won’t think further about it, we’ve got to concentrate on Saturday. We have to be realist and consider Samuel or Horner are better timetriallists than us, but we’ll do our best.”
Beñat Intxausti: “It was a pity Tondo couldn’t win. I think the headwind blowing into the climb was the key so he couldn’t reach the finish. I was personally getting affected a bit by the heat of previous stages, but felt really good today and controlled the attacks behind with David. The team did their stuff well, but others claimed the honours. For the ITT, Horner, Klöden or Samuel are the favourites, but I already came out with a surprise last year and we’ll try to repeat it this season. It’s not a flat chrono, you’ve gotta have good legs here and both of us three, despite not being specialists, are confident to do very well there.”