Events

Osa shivers his way to Basque country stage win

Aitor Osa was about the only guy smiling at the finish line of Wednesday's brutally cold third stage of the Vuelta Ciclista a Pais Vasco. After all, he won the stage and took the overall lead. But even the iBanesto.com rider was shivering as he slipped across the line ahead of Cofidis' Bingen Fernandez. "I've never been so cold on the bike," said a disappointed Fernandez, shivering from the front seat of the team car after Osa held him off for the stage-win and the leader's jersey. "I had no strength at the end to fight Aitor. I simply wanted the stage to be over." Don't believe those

By Andrew Hood

The peloton early in Wednesday's third stage of the 42nd Vuelta a Pais Vasco.

The peloton early in Wednesday’s third stage of the 42nd Vuelta a Pais Vasco.

Photo: Andrew Hood

Aitor Osa was about the only guy smiling at the finish line of Wednesday’s brutally cold third stage of the Vuelta Ciclista a Pais Vasco.

After all, he won the stage and took the overall lead. But even the iBanesto.com rider was shivering as he slipped across the line ahead of Cofidis’ Bingen Fernandez.

“I’ve never been so cold on the bike,” said a disappointed Fernandez, shivering from the front seat of the team car after Osa held him off for the stage-win and the leader’s jersey. “I had no strength at the end to fight Aitor. I simply wanted the stage to be over.”

Don’t believe those post cards from Spain showing topless honeys cavorting on sunny beaches. That’s not Basque Country in those pictures. Cold wind and peppered the peloton from the start in Vitoria, typically the coldest major city in Spain. Racers also woke up to blood tests. All riders tested from Alessio, AG2R, iBanesto.com, Kelme, Lampre, Lotto, Saeco and Telekom were cleared.

As the peloton climbed the category-one Alto de Opakua, the rain turned to freezing rain and snow. Soaked riders shivered as they crossed the finish line in Alsasua some 170 kilometers later.

“Today was miserable from the get-go. I couldn’t see anyone enjoying today’s race,” said CSC-Tiscali’s Michael Rasmussen. When a Dane says the weather sucks, you know it’s got to be bad. “It was just impossible to stay warm.”

Kelme riders bundle up before the start of Wednesday's cold third stage, when temperatures hovered around 7-de ...

Kelme riders bundle up before the start of Wednesday’s cold third stage, when temperatures hovered around 7-de …

Photo: Andrew Hood

Things warmed up early, at least as far as the racing went, when several riders tried to escape early. Nothing stuck until halfway through the race when a group of 15 riders pulled away from the main bunch for good.

The group included Bram de Groot (Rabobank), Dario Cioni (Mapei), Osa, David Latasa and Francisco Vila, all iBanesto.com, Fernandez (Cofidis), Abraham Olano (ONCE), Pietro Cauuchioli (Alessio), Danny Jonasson (CSC), Unai Etxebarria (Euskaltel), Igor Astarloa (Saeco), Aitor Garmendia (Coast), Jose Manuel Maestre (Relax) and Gustavo Toledo (Jazztel).

Osa, Fernandez and Garmendia were the only riders of the top-29 who all started the stage with the same time as race-leader Beat Zberg of Rabobank.

Extebarria and Toledo attacked off the group and the peloton’s more than 5 minutes back at the 100-km mark.

Osa and Fernandez pounced off the front of the group, reeled in Etxebarria, and cleared the day’s final climb – the category-three Alto de la Cadena at 150 km – with an 11-second gap over the break and 4 minutes on the peloton.

The group disintegrated over the final kilometers while the peloton tried in vain to narrow the gap. Zberg came across the line 3:45 back with the main peloton, but it’s too late. The Swiss rider conceded his lead to Osa and dropped to sixth overall.

“On a race like today, when the racers are practically frozen, it’s hard to respond to changes in the race. We took a chance today and it paid off,” said iBanesto.com’s director Eusebio Unzue. “It was important to fight for the stage. With the weather like it was today, we knew we had an opportunity.”

The Vuelta a Pais Vasco continues Thursday with the fourth stage, featuring five rated climbs on 154 kms from Alsasua to Villabona. Everyone is hoping for better weather, but forecasts are calling for more of the same.

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Results

Stage 3, Wednesday, Vitoria to Altsasua,

Aitor Osa (Sp), iBanesto.com, 170km in 4:15:28 (39.9 kph);
2. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis, same time;
3. Bram De Groot (Nl),Rabobank, at 1:29;
4. Francis Vila (Sp), iBanesto.com, s.t.;
5. Pietro Caucchioli (I), Alessio, s.t.;
6. Abraham Olano (Sp), ONCE, s.t.;
7. Mario Toledo (Sp), Jazztel, at 1:30;
8. Dario Cioni (I), Mapei, at 2:18;
9. Aitor Garmendia (Sp), Coast, at 2:27;
10. Igor Flores (Sp), Euskaltel, s.t.

OTHERS:

46. Cadel Evans (Aus), Mapei, s.t.;
54. Levy Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, s.t.;
82. Tyler Hamilton (USA), CSC-Tiscali, at 9:42

Overall standings after 3 stages:
1. Aitor Osa (Sp), iBanesto.com, 12 hours,
46 minutes, 43 seconds;
2. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis, same time;
3. Francisco Vila (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 3:15;
4. Abraham Olano (Sp), ONCE, s.t.;
5. Pietro Caucchioli (I), Alessio, s.t.;
6. Beat Zberg (Ned), Rabobank, at 3:45;
7. David Etxebarria (Sp), Euskaltel, s.t.;
8. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel, s.t.;
9. Gonzalo Bayarri (Sp), Jazztel, s.t.;
10. Mario Aerts (B), Lotto, s.t.

OTHERS:

20. Cadel Evans (Aus), Mapei, s.t.;