By Andrew Hood
What a week it’s been for Euskaltel-Euskadi.
First, its captain and Tour de France stage-winner, Mikel Astrarloza, pops positive for EPO in a pre-Tour doping control, some nasty business that raises questions about the team’s future, not to mention its ethical integrity.
Then Igor Antón wins Sunday’s Urkiola climbing race in the heart of Basque Country to remind everyone that the “orange tide” isn’t going down without a fight.
And Wednesday, it was Koldo Fernández, Euskaltel’s erstwhile sprinter who also won last week at the Getxo circuit race, who delivered a win in the opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos and earned the first leader’s jersey in the process.
Fernández won the 143km first stage from Oña to Briviesca, making easy work of Enrique Matas (Burgos Monumental) with Timmy Duggan (Garmin-Slipstream) coming through 14th.
“This morning (team manager) Miguel Madariaga came and that was something important because it gives us confidence,” Fernández said. “The victory is dedicated to everyone on the team, especially a big part for Mikel Astarloza, who isn’t going through a good moment. Tomorrow will be difficult to defend the jersey. The third stage, which ends on the streets of Burgos, will be my next objective.”
The day’s main protagonist was American Ted King (Cervélo), who jumped in the opening 5km to go forge the main breakaway of the afternoon.
King later earned kisses from the podium girls after claiming the blue “metas volantes” jersey for his efforts by claiming first and then taking second at two of the day’s three intermediate sprints.
Other riders bridged up to the rookie American and opening up a gap of nearly five minutes until the peloton got serious about the chase. The King group was finally neutralized with less than 14km to go to set up the mass sprint.
The race continues Thursday with the 153km second stage from Villasana de Mena to Miranda del Ebro, a rolling stage with third-category climb before a rising finish to the line, a finale ideal for pre-race favorite Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne).
“Today’s stage was a classic, with a breakaway that was caught with 12km to go to the line and then a sprint after a short and fast stage. It was very hard, with temperatures reaching 35C-36C, but it was the same for everyone and the head doesn’t bother me at all, quite the contrary, it makes the others more tired,” Valverde said. “The sensations were good and we’ll see if we can try something in the coming stages to try to win a stage. I am here to prepare myself looking ahead to the Vuelta a España, but if an opportunity presents itself to be at the front, I will take advantage of it.”
The race also paid homage to former organizer Gregorio “Tito” Moreno, an influential and respected figure in Spanish cycling who died last fall after a long bout with cancer.