Vuelta a Castilla y León (st. 1)
Big surprise by the Colombian rider in Bragança: first leader in Castilla y León after attacking into the Castillo (Cat-3), beating Pello Bilbao (CJR) into final sprint following rain-soaked day
More than three hours under the rain, with temperatures under 10ºC: that was the scene under which Carlos Betancur claimed his first victory in Movistar Team colours. The opening stage of the Vuelta Castilla y León –166.3km between Alcañices, Zamora, and Bragança, in Portugal- had some dreadful conditions in store to balance what seemingly was a gentle route, with only three Cat-3 climbs. And despite the rainstorm, a Colombian prevailed. 'La Ronca' is back!
The squad directed by José Luis Jaimerena and José Luis Laguía started pursuing the day's seven-man break well before the Alto de Carmona. Before the Alto de Bragança, already on Portuguese soil, the Blues were pulling on full steam to ensure it was caught and creating some fireworks into the Alto do Castillo, the last climb of the day. That was Betancur's time.
7km from the line, the man from Antioquia jumped off the front together with Pello Bilbao (CJR). Despite some nerves at the front, his rival asking for some extra turns, and a bit of a gap into the descent for Bilbao, the sprint was contested between the two, ultimately bringing the Eusebio Unzue-led squad its 9th success of the 2016 season –with seven different riders- and Betancur's 13th since he turned pro, one largely awaited for after 760 days of drought since he conquered Paris-Nice in 2014.
The GC has offered some early gaps today, with Betancur and Bilbao 46" ahead of a trio with Barbero (CJR), Sokolov (LOK) and Winner Anacona (5th), the big bunch at at 54" as Alejandro Valverde took 8th. The Movistar riders, also leading the teams' GC, will fight tomorrow to maintain the jersey atop the Alto de Fermoselle (2ª), 3km from a finishing line that will surely see another small group coming across.
Carlos Betancur: “I'm really happy to win again after so long. Cold, rainy conditions suit me well – Alejandro and many team-mates and rivals struggled quite a bit during the race and I had to profit from that. Into the final 25km, the break still had two minutes, so I decided to come to the front and help my team-mates out since we were into a bit of disadvantage against Caja Rural – we had led the bunch during the whole stage. When you've got a big rider as Alejandro by your side, you must help him. Several attacks went before Bilbao's; that's when I decided to go after him. Despite him taking some meters into the descent, I could bridge back for the sprint… and that's how I got the win!
"I'm of course excited about what's to come after this success, but the roles within the team are clear and they won't change. I didn't come here to chase the GC, and our leader is Alejandro. We'll see how these two stages will go, but Bala is in excellent condition – we remain committed to him. This victory is a tribute to Franco Gini, a man who helped me a lot to get on the right path agin, making me reflect on the keys to success and how to do things well. Now, I've got a strong squad supporting me, Movistar Team, which has relied on me – this is a reward to them, for believing in what I could do."
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport / Luis Ángel Gómez