Basque cycling fans had plenty to celebrate on Wednesday’s 11th stage of the Vuelta a España.
Basque rider Mikel Itturia, who rides for the Basque team Euskadi-Murias claimed the stage victory on Wednesday, crossing the finish line alone in the city of Urdax. Urdax is located in the eastern edge of Spain’s Basque region, just a short drive from Itturia’s hometown of Urnieta.
“I am so happy,” Iturria said. “I have never won as a professional so to win here at the Vuelta a España, so close to home, in a stage I used to come to see, is a dream come true.”
Itturia (Euskadi-Murias) attacked from the group with more than 20 kilometers remaining in the hilly stage, and then held off a chase of 11 riders to take the victory by six seconds.
The lumpy 180-kilometer stage included three categorized climbs, as well as a series of non-categorized hills through southern France and northern Spain. The stage was custom-made for a breakaway to survive, and indeed a 14-man group separated itself early in the day.
Present in the group were Ben O’Connor and Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier (both Dimension Data), François Bidard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Matteo Fabbro (Katusha), Lawson Craddock (EF Education First), Damien Howson (Mitchelton-Scott), Gorka Izagirre (Astana), Remi Cavagna (Decuninck-Quick Step), Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH), Benjamin Thomas (Groupama-FDJ), Jorges Arcas (Movistar), and Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
The combination of riders was perfect, as the top-placed rider, O’Connor, was more than 37 minutes down in GC. Thus, leader Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma squad gave the group a long leash, with the gap going out to 17 minutes by the end of the stage.
The group began to splinter with 60 kilometers remaining after Izagirre and Aranburu attacked on the Col d’Ispeguy. Additional accelerations on the following Col de Otxondo furthered splintered the group, and just seven riders were together after the category 3 climb: Ghebregzabhier, Bidard, Fabbro, Howson, Izagirre, Aranburu, and Craddock.
Itturia was actually in a group of four riders chasing the front group of seven, and the Basque rider struck out on his own as soon as he regained contact with the leaders, with 25.5 kilometers remaining.
“I attacked at full speed, with all I had, there were a lot of kilometers left and it was a bit of a gamble,” Itturia said. “I opened up a gap and from there to the finish line, it was just about holding on, holding on and holding on.”
The group initially sat up, but then gave chase. Itturia’s gap never surpassed 45 seconds, and as the riders neared the finish, it appeared he would be caught. Howson, Bidard, Craddock, Ghebrezabhier, and Lastra pegged the gap down to 10 seconds with just 3 kilometers remaining, and appeared ready to pounce.
Then, with 1.4 kilometers remaining the group hit a climb, and Ghebrezabhier and Howson attacked and nearly closed the gap, coming within a few seconds of Itturia’s wheel. But the final uphill led to a straight descent to the finish, and Itturia was able to hold his tenuous gap, crossing the line just ahead of the surging pack.