Vuelta al País Vasco (final stage)
Basque star from Movistar Team (3rd) jumps five places up in Vuelta al País Vasco TT showdown, joins Rodríguez (KAT) and Henao (SKY) on overall top-3 as Nairo Quintana finishes in 4th place
He started the final day in 8th place overall and ended it up in a magnificent 3rd spot after offering his best performance when it was most needed. Ion Izagirre (Movistar Team) showed again on Saturday his world-class talent by jumping onto a top-level GC podium in the 55th Vuelta al País Vasco alongsideJoaquim Rodríguez (KAT) and Sergio Henao (SKY), a reward for the Eusebio Unzué-led squad after their efforts all over the six-day course in the Basque Country.
Good early references by Gorka Izagirre (15th) and Beñat Intxausti (5th) over the 18km TT showdown in Aia, a course combining a fast descent into the coastal city of Orio followed by two steep climbs ridden a day earlier on stage five, were the best supporting point for both the Spanish road champion and Nairo Quintana, who followed different tracks to seek for success. While the Colombian lost about twenty seconds in the first part of course to later find a constant pace into the climbs and cross the line in 7th place, Ion clocked the fastest time of all GC favourites at the first intermediate point after 10km and kept the pace in the second half of the parcours, only beaten by day's winner Tom Dumoulin (TGA) and overall victor Rodríguez.
Ion Izagirre's third place in the Itzulia is his best result in a WorldTour event after his runner-up finishes in the last two editions of the Tour de Pologne, as well as the first podium for a Basque rider on home soil since 2010, when team-mate Intxausti claimed 2nd. With no stage wins, yet with unsurpassable performances team-wise, the squad conducted in Euskadi by José Luis Arrieta and José Luis Arrieta earned a just reward for their efforts.
Ion Izagirre: "Personally, I'm really happy with this result. To be honest, I'd have happily taken a podium finish like this if they have offered it to me before the race. I finished the race really strong, and even though I couldn't win the stage, fighting for everything until the very last moment is something to be truly proud of. More focused on the GC without Nairo here? You can't think about that, never – we knew we were coming here to support him, we were by his side and the goal was doing whatever it took to win this. We had chances until the final TT, with both myself and him, and though we lacked a stage win, the team showed commitment and made huge efforts from the start of the race to achieve a prize.
Team-wise, we leave with that bittersweet taste, but looking at myself, I think I took a step forward in my career. Making it onto the podium in my home race, with such a strong field of contenders, makes me mentally stronger to keep doing my work. You become more mature after all this years in the pro peloton, and that pays off when you race important courses – I feel more solid, and having a team like this by your side makes things even easier. Now it's time to enjoy this result and then, we will start thinking about the Giro. I'm raring to go after this race – let's see what we can achieve in Italy."
Eusebio Unzué: "I think it's a well-deserved podium finish for Ion, even more considering how he behaved during the week. No one gave him away anything – he had to work for Nairo on crucial moments and I don't think he was less strong this week that those ahead of him in the GC. It's another good step in his career, against such talented rivals, and it must make him progress towards, hopefully, even bigger goals. This third place is also a fair prize for the whole team, after the work all the lads did this week. When you take it at home, with one of those youngsters growing towards the top, it makes you even more satisfied. We came here with an inevitable role as favourites, riding on home roads and with such a strong team. That's why we took so many responsibilities – maybe too many, since there wasn't too much cooperation from other teams on certain situations, but we did what we had to do. The team rode super strong.
"¿Nairo? We must look for excuses, but as he recognized during the week of racing, the routes might have not been ideal for him. These are steep, short climbs, which require from aggresive, explosive pace changes he doesn't have, but I loved how he responded. You can't win every race, you must lose some and learn those. It was a very productive race for him and a demonstration that everyone is working hard, as well. It was a close competition, with talented climbers going down to the wire – Purito looked like the one in his best times, and young stars like Henao and Yates made things hard for everyone."