Giro d'Italia (st. 8)
Basque allrounder from Movistar Team wins most fought and beautiful stage so far in the 2017 Giro d'Italia, opens Eusebio Unzué-led squad's account in 100th 'Corsa Rosa' in Peschici as Nairo Quintana, Andrey Amador remain in top-ten GC spots
Gorka Izagirre (Movistar Team) offered himself the biggest success in his decade-long professional cycling career and opened the Spanish outfit's account on Saturday's Giro d'Italia stage eight, an 189km rolling parcours from Molfetta to Peschici – over the hills of the Gargano region in southeastern Italy – that offered no respite to the competitors. After the first hour of racing was covered at a whooping 53.5kph average, the original 16-man break kept close by the bunch despite looking like a winning move, Izagirre involuntarily sought for a moment – never looking to chase the win – to make a first right decision: the descent of the Cat-2 Sant'Angelo, 80km from the end.
The Ormaiztegi-born cyclist did a fast downhill to reach the leading groups, very much torn apart by the huge pace in the beginning of the stage. The strong speeds by QST and KAT in the bunch behind forced Izagirre to respond to nervous accelerations from Valerio Conti (UAD) and Visconti (TBM). The two Italians, together with Gorka, Luis León Sánchez (AST) and Gregor Mühlberger (BOH, dropped later on), formed a decisive split (Izagirre event took a 10" gap with 6km remaining at the Coppa del Fornaro climb) that would play their cards for victory at the finish in Via Montesanto (1.5km, 5% average).
Barely making it past a crash from Conti, Izagirre chose to launch his winning move from the foot of the climb, taking some beautiful meters that ultimately brought him his sixth win as a pro (3x Clásica de Ordizia; stage win in Luxembourg, 2010; last April's Klasika Amorebieta), the most resounding in his career. After the escapees, an elite GC group saw Nairo Quintana (7th overall) and Andrey Amador (10th) finishing in perfect position before Sunday's crucial Blockhaus mountain-top finish (Cat-1, 13.5km, 8,5% avg.). The Giro, however, already looks bright for the Blues after Izagirre's success. Zorionak! ("Congratulations", in Basque language)
Gorka Izagirre: "It wasn't on our day's plan to enter the break, but we saw a chance into that long descent, we also had to keep riders from dangerous teams at reach, and so we decided to give it a try and carry on later on once we made it it. We saw the opportunity to go for the stage and I'm so glad we could finish it off. When Conti crashed just in front of me I was a bit hesitant, because there was still around one kilometer remaining. However, I looked back, saw that there was a split in our group, and I chose to go on full steam until the very end. It was really a long ascent with that action, but I'm just incredibly happy that I got this!
"This victory means a lot to me, it's the biggest I've ever achieved. I've spent so many years chasing a Grand Tour stage success, so many times into breakaways, many close calls, and reaching it in such a Giro stage – this is f-ing amazing. And it's also a huge boost of morale for the team. It really makes us confident for what's to come. Nairo is super strong at the moment and the whole team is delivering so far, everyone has seen it during this week. We've more than fulfilled the goal we had our minds on before starting the race, which was keeping him out of trouble and in contention until the Blockhaus ascent – now it's another completely different Giro, and we could see some interesting things already on Sunday."
Picture (c): Luca Bettini / BettiniPhoto.net – Full gallery here