Vuelta a Espana

Rodríguez pips the WorldTour pros — winning one for little guys

Emerging Basque Pro Continental team Euskadi-Murias celebrates first WorldTour win with Óscar Rodríguez, who conquered La Camperona.

LEON, Spain (VN) — Last spring, Óscar Rodríguez crashed before reaching La Camperona in a stage at the Vuelta a Castilla y León and never made it to the explosive climb.

On Friday in Vuelta a España stage 13, Rodríguez made it up the climb and wrote his own fairytale ending to take a maiden WorldTour victory for his Euskadi-Murias team racing its first grand tour. It was the stuff of dreams.

“I still don’t believe it,” Rodríguez said. “I didn’t think this was even possible, especially in the Vuelta a España.”

The 23-year-old climber is well-known within Spanish cycling circles, but hardly anyone knew who he was when he bounded clear of Rafa Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) on the upper reaches of the Camperona ridge.

It’s something of a David vs. Goliath tale. The breakaway was full of WorldTour firepower. The Vuelta is the last-chance saloon for many in the peloton looking for a win to help secure a contract or save a season.

For Rodríguez, who hails from a suburb of Pamplona, it was a coming-out party.

“I was riding off my power meter at 400 watts. I got up to Majka and the other rider and I realized I was going faster than they were,” he said. “When I saw that they were not looking too good and thought maybe it’s possible.”

Directors inside the team car certainly believed it. They were yelling into the ear-piece to attack and push to the line. The climbing victory was a chance to show everyone what many inside the team already knew.

“We already knew he is a big talent and we’ve been doing things the right way,” said Euskadi-Murias team manager Jon Odriozola. “We targeted this stage and we’ve been holding him back since the start of the Vuelta.”

Oscar Rodriguez surprised the crowd by attacking in the final kilometer to win stage 13. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

The victory is a milestone for the Euskadi-Murias, a cycling project based in Spain’s Basque Country. Friday’s stage served as confirmation for the team born in the 2015 season as a Continental team. It also indicates a revival of Basque pro cycling. A homegrown project, it has slowly taken root and it graduated into the Pro Continental ranks this season.

“When you work for these dreams sometimes they come true,” Odriozola said. “This team has soul, personality, and character, and we show it every day and we knew that we could win a race. We were crying in the car because it’s something historical and for me it’s a dream come true.”

This year, the Vuelta organization invited Cofidis along with Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, Burgos-BH, and Euskadi-Murias. All four teams have been active in breakaways. Cofidis even scored the red leader’s jersey Thursday with Jesus Herrada, who dug deep to defend it Friday.

“Óscar already has a contract with us next season,” Odriozola said. “This shows we have young talent in Spanish cycling and if we keep working, we can be just as big as the other teams at the highest level of the sport.”

The victory also reconfirmed that smaller teams can win against the big-budget WorldTour squads even though it is harder and more challenging for Pro Continental teams to earn a berth in the grand tours and even more difficult to score a victory.

In fact, Nacer Bouhanni’s victory in stage 6 was the first this season among all three grand tours by a non-WorldTour team.

“This is a breath of fresh air for our team,” Rodríguez said. “It’s going to leave a great flavor for the entire team. To win a stage in the WorldTour and that it’s the Vuelta in a grand tour, it’s unbelievable for everyone.”

The summit victory completes the circle for Rodríguez, who crashed before he could climb La Camperona last spring.

“I raced here before at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, but I crashed on a nearby descent and really hurt myself badly,” he said. “I couldn’t make it to La Camperona then but I won today. Fate works in funny ways.”