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Gerrans wins Basque Country stage 1 after fast finishing descent

Orica-GreenEdge rider holds off challengers in the finishing chute to claim victory

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Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) won stage 1 at Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) on Monday.

The 157-kilometer course started and ended in Elgoibar and featured six categorized climbs, including a Cat. 2 that summitted 7.6km from the finish. A fast descent into town followed.

Gerrans led a medium-sized pack into the finishing chute and was able to hold off Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Angel Vicioso (Katusha) in a mad sprint to the line. By winning the opening stage, Gerrans is the overall race leader. Velits and Vicioso are second and third.

“This is perfect,” Gerrans said. “I focused on winning one specific stage at Catalunya and another stage here. I’ve accomplished both goals, and it shows that my form is coming up nicely. My preparation for Milan-Sanremo wasn’t what I had hoped, but it’s turning around to work out really well leading to the Ardennes.

“We’re still a couple weeks out, and I just need to keep building on the form that I have now.”

Laurent Didier (RadioShack-Leopard) and Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) spent much of the day at the front of the race before they were brought back to the peloton near the end. Didier joined the main field with around 35km remaining and Txurruka was caught with just under 19km left.

Fast finishing descent

The descent to the finish was so fast that the motorcycles at the front of the peloton actually slowed down the riders. At one point, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) rode right up to the rear wheel of a TV motorcycle and had to squeeze his brakes to stop himself from crashing. His face grimaced and he shook his head at the close call.

Other riders nearly slid out as they tried to take the fastest possible line down the mountain.

Ironically, there was a crash at the summit of the climb as everyone tried to get into position for the descent. The handful of riders got back on their bikes and finished the stage, but Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) had blood all over his right elbow. The incident slowed down other riders as well, including some of the GC contenders.

General classification update

Pre-race favorites Contador and Richie Porte (Sky) were among those finishing safely with the front group, along with the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), and Jakob Fulgsang (Astana).

Contador said he was glad to get through the day without losing time.

“It was a hard and demanding stage but that’s the way they are at the Basque Country, so it wasn’t a surprise,” Contador said. “I had good sensations, and even though it’s not a day to draw conclusions, I am content. We were at the front when we needed to be. We didn’t know what happened behind us and we focused on getting to the finish line.”

Ceding five seconds in the GC standings was defending champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskaltel), along with Ryder Hesjedal and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), two-time winner Andreas Kloden (RadioShack), and Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).

Sanchez was not happy to give up time on the first day of racing.

“It was hard, just as we expected. Chances are still there, the key is to be concentrated and focused on each day,” Sanchez said. “Crashes and splits are part of racing. In this case, we were the unlucky ones, but you cannot lose sleep over it. Tomorrow’s another stage and we have to keep working.”

Others to lose time were Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) at 16 seconds, Tony Martin (Omega Pharma) at 28 seconds, Andy Schleck (RadioShack) at 1:01, and Tom Danielson (Garmin) at 4:58.

The six-day race continues with Tuesday’s 170km stage 2.