The last few kilometres were all that I managed to see of today’s stage 1 of the Pais Vasco and coverage was intermittent even then as the cameras cut back to the finish line rather than following all the action.
But when the focus was on the riders what a stage this was.
Let’s be clear. Chris Horner took this race last year. That put pressure on Team RadioShack and Horner specifically. Ivan Rovny rode an exception race but on the climb of Alto de la Antigua Horner grasped his moment and attacked with such passion that he left everyone, literally everyone else, languishing in his wake. The shock of his move soon turned to resolve as the peloton and then individuals caught up to him. Rodríguez (KAT) chased down and then pulled ahead of Horner who then let him support his ride to the crest. Behind Rodríguez came Sanchez (EUS) and RadioShack’s Andreas Kloden, a man already ‘on fire’ this season having taken a second in the Paris-Nice and a win in the Algarve. Together all four men poured down the mountain as other less fortunate riders dismounted and pushed their bikes up the final muscle-bursting incline on Antigua.
Horner and Rodríguez traded places on the descent; Kloden joined the Sanchez at the rear and checked back for impending danger from the peloton, now strung out by that last climb.
Under the Flamme Rouge and Horner led the way; Kloden didn’t seem to have the power to get to the front to assist his team mate but Rodríguez and Sanchez were constantly checking and waiting for that to happen. With about 500 metres to go Sanchez made his move as the 4 men dropped down a ramp and turned a sharp left. Kloden moved ahead of Horner but the pace was high. Horner went to make it even higher and passed his ‘wing-man’. Each of the riders stood on the peddles and pumped – hard.
In the last 150 metres the peloton was bearing down fast. Rodríguez swept in front of Sanchez and the chase was on. As Sanchez pulled alongside Rodríguez in the final metres Kloden and Horner could give no more. As the photo finsh separated the day’s winner, Rodríguez, from Sanchez Kloden sped over the line in third taking the same time as the stage winner whilst the defending champion lagged by a mere second.
It was an exciting final 15 minutes of coverage and Team RadioShack covered itself in glory and showed that the intention of last year’s winner was not to be an ‘also ran’ but to fight for every centimetre of tarmac.
With stages this exciting the rest of the Tour will be spent on the edge of this cycling fan’s seat!
Top Ten Results
1RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 4:02:42
2SÁNCHEZ, Samuel EUS
3KLÖDEN, Andreas RSH
4HORNER, Christopher RSH a 1
5HESJEDAL, Ryder GRM a 6
6CUNEGO, Damiano LAM
7 LOPEZ, David MOV
8GESINK, Robert RAB
9DI LUCA, Danilo KAT
10 TONDO, Xavier MOV
Team RadioShack Result
34BUSCHE, Matthew a 54
55ROVNY, Ivan a 1:38
66 IRIZAR, Markel a 2:08
75PAULINHO, Sergio a 4:06
124MCCARTNEY, Jason a 15:07
129 LEIPHEIMER, Levi
By Julian Winn, staff writer