Vuelta al País Vasco (st. 5)
Telefónica-backed squad’s insistent work for its team leader takes Mikel to 2nd overall in País Vasco behind (so far) untouchable Primoz Roglic (TLJ).
The Movistar Team had a big role in a spectacular stage five of the 2018 Vuelta al País Vasco -164km starting and Vitoria and finishing in Eibar, after three tough categorized climbs-, as Mikel Landa’s team-mates decisively contributed to a big leap forward from the Basque climber in the GC: seventh to second, now only behind race leader Primoz Roglic (TLJ).
The Spanish outfit took the reins of the favourites’ group at the bottom of the first ascent, Elosua (Cat-2). Winner Anacona, Rafa Valls and a sensational Víctor de la Parte reduced the gap of the early break, containing José Joaquín Rojas as a ‘sentinel’, from five minutes to 2’30” in barely six kilometers. De la Parte, who was able to reduce the GC group to only 17 members, including Landa and Nairo Quintana, at the top of Elosua, set the pace again at Endoia (Cat-2), anticipating Mikel’s two accelerations through the climb to go away and chase down the break, together with Roglic and fellow countryman Ion Izagirre (TBM).
A fine, late labour from Rojas, after letting the break for a while, allowed Landa completing the final climb to Azurki (Cat-1) with over a minute on a second echelon of favourites including an attacking Nairo Quintana – yet not 2nd-placed Julian Alaphilippe (QST), who lost more than two minutes at the end of the day. 1’27” was the final gap between the two groups at the tricky finish in Eibar, where Mikel -6th over the line, after working hard on the run-in to the finish- increased his advantage for the GC podium to nearly one minute before the Queen stage.
The 2018 ‘Itzulia’ will be decided with a grueling 122km around Eibar, including eight (!!) rated climbs that will finish with a classic trio of tough ascents: Ixua (Cat-1), San Miguel (Cat-3) and Usartza (Cat-1) towards the arrivée in the Santuario de Arrate.
REACTION / Mikel Landa:
“I felt really comfortable thanks to all the work my team-mates did for me. I did not have to require anything from them during the stage, and we accomplished nearly everything we had planned before the start. They did a superb job, and I’m happy with this result because of how they handled things during the day.
“Roglic did not take a single turn at the front and sticked strong to our wheels on the moves we tried. He’s an explosive rider, he’s really strong at the moment. Plus, on the climbs we were suffering a bit into the headwind, so it was difficult to try any more moves. At the final descent it was just Ion, Padun and me pushing, but I continued because we had to build on that gap and improve our position overall. We were seventh yesterday and we now sit on the podium. Let’s hope Roglic suffered a bid today and our strategy pays off tomorrow. One step at a time!
“We’ve got a more secure podium place now, but we must try and go for the leader’s jersey tomorrow. Any energy left to attack? Well, we’ll see tomorrow when the right time comes, but I’m really willing to do. We must try to do some harm tomorrow, until the very last kilometer. My first stage was really bad, but I’ve shown during the wheel that I was in really great condition. Let’s see how we finish things off tomorrow.”
Picture (c): Photo Gomez Sport