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Alexey Lutsenko solos to inaugural Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior gravel race

The Astana rider converts 40km solo break into victory on Spain's answer to Strade Bianche.

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Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) completed a 40km solo epic to take victory at the inaugural Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior.

Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) finished 53 seconds behind the Kazakh rider to take second place with Loïc Vliegen claiming the final podium spot three seconds further back.

Gallery: Alexey Lutsenko’s Spanish-gravel-winning Wilier 0 SLR

Lutsenko surged away with just over 40 kilometers to go in the new Spanish one-day race as the peloton split into pieces on the fifth of seven gravel sectors. He weaved across the road on the brutally steep exit to the final gravel sector, but he had more than enough time in hand and would hold on to take victory in his first race of the season.

“It’s my first race of the season and a very hard one to start with, but I did a good two-week stint on Teide at altitude with the team. And yes, it’s my first race, I’ve got good morale, it’s always good to start so well,” Lutsenko said.

The group of four chasers behind him, which had been trying to reel him in for nearly a quarter of the race, broke up on the final dirt road. Wellens and Vliegen went clear together but the Lotto Soudal rider put in a last little dig to ensure the runner-up spot on the inaugural podium.

“It was a real nice parcours,” said Wellens. “In the beginning, we knew we needed to be at the front on the gravel zones to be outside of the dangers and the crashes. Once we came onto the local lap, it was full-on racing. In the end, it was the strongest who wins today and that is clear. Behind, we started to look at each other. Like I said, it was the strongest won, so I am happy with second.”

Billed as Spain’s answer to Strade Bianche, the Clásica Jáen Paríso Interior featured 40km of gravel roads as well as a lag-sapping 3,000 meters of climbing. The combination would make for a thrilling race that will hopefully grace the calendar in future years.

A breakaway of five riders chipped off the front early on to form the initial breakaway. The quintet was not given much room and they were kept to a maximum gap of just over two minutes to the main peloton.

The griding gravel roads took their toll on the riders and the break quickly began to shed riders out the back. By the fourth gravel sector, after about 120km of racing, Igor Arrieta (Equipo Kern Pharma) was the last man standing from the leading group and he was brought back soon after.

Behind him, with just under 50 kilometers remaining, the peloton began breaking up into pieces with a small group of fewer than 10 riders breaking clear from the pack. As the dust began to quite literally settle, Lutsenko pushed on alone.

Wellens tried to follow the Astana rider, but he could not hold his wheel and Lutsenko disappeared down the road. Meanwhile, the Belgian joined forces with three other riders, including Vliegen, Lennard Kamna, and Connor Swift.

There were moments when it looked as though Lutsenko would be reeled back in by the strong chasing group, but there was no catching him. He would ultimately cross the line some 53 ahead of the disintegrating chasing pack.

Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior results

  1. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) 4:49:13
  2. Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), at :53
  3. Loïc Vliegen (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert), at :56
  4. Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic), at 1:28
  5. Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe)