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Itzulia Basque Country: What the stars said after frantic final stage

Tadej Pogačar on 'one of the most demanding stages I have ever done,' Primož Roglič on bouncing back from bad luck, and much more.

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Itzulia Basque Country wrapped up with an explosive final stage Saturday.

The three-hour blast through the Basque hills saw Primož Roglič attack from far out to pounce on the GC title, overnight race-leader Brandon-McNulty crack under the red-hot pace, and Tadej Pogačar launch a desperate late chase to claw his way onto the overall podium.

David Gaudu scored a big early season win and Roglič put the demons of his Paris-Nice disaster to bed. Meanwhile, UAE-Emirates had a bittersweet day, trading the race lead for the third step on the podium.

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Here’s what the stars said after Saturday’s stage:

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma): GC winner, 2nd on stage

Primož Roglič attacked mid-race to make the final selection and swoop down on the GC win.

After starting the day second overall, Roglič went on the move with 50km to go as his classification rival Brandon McNulty started to lose his legs on the Krabelin climb. The Slovenian ace withstood an onslaught of attacks from final breakaway companion David Gaudu on the final climb of the day, but called truce to give the Frenchman the stage as he secured the GC, continuing his standout streak of stage-race results.

After seeing his chances of winning Paris-Nice derailed by a series of crashes last month, Roglič bounced back in style this week to win his second Itzula title while also winning the opening stage time trial.

“I’ve had some bad luck on my last stages, but today was just beautiful, everything went right and I had fun on the whole stage today.

“It was a good race, and I raced it. Jonas [Vingegaard] was also strong, he was in the second group, if I’d blown up he’d have been there at the end. So it was a super-good performance by all the team, we had fun the whole week and today was a nice day for us.

“My form has been good. Three or four weeks ago I crashed twice [at Paris-Nice] and it wasn’t the best preparation for this race. But I already get a beautiful result the first day and I’ve been here with a young team. We all need to learn to race as well as possible, but it was fun and everything went well. So chapeau to all the guys and everyone involved.”

Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates), 3rd on GC, 5th on stage

Tadej Pogačar started the day as wingman for his race-leading teammate Brandon McNulty as the team looked to defend the American’s 23-second lead.

However, the race exploded on the descent from the Elosua-Gorla climb, leaving the UAE-Emirates riders off the back and under pressure, and McNulty eventually cracked. With his teammate’s chances in tatters, Pogačar was left chasing after a slot on the GC after starting the day fifth overall.

Pogačar pulled back some time in the final 50km and found himself in a dozen-strong group in the final hour of the race. However, he was left to do all the pulling as UAE-Emirates’ rivals took a free ride to the finish line. Pogačar was able to move up to third on the podium but may have been left wondering what could have been had the tactics played out differently.

“We controlled the race. We had Marc [Hirschi] in the breakaway, we were pulling behind and then the Astana guys attacked us on top of the climb and we just lost some positions. After two or three corners the gap was bigger and we lost touch with the first group. That was the race broken.

“We called Marc back and we tried to pull it back but Brandon exploded on the steep climb because when you go full gas it’s really hard. Then there was a fight to come back to the first group for me, but I was just a bit too short and I was fighting for third place.

“It was then up to me to fight for the podium and I had to push really deep for 40km. It was one of the most demanding stages both mentally and physically that I have ever done in my career.

“Brandon showed he has good character, and he is a really good rider with a bright future. We had fun this week, we did our best, we tried and under the circumstances, we are really happy.”

David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ): Stage winner, 5th on GC

David Gaudu followed Roglič’s move on the Krabelin ascent to go clear with the Slovenian and Hugh Carthy. The trio remained out front on the final climb, at which point the young Frenchman cranked the pace to the point that Carthy could no longer hold on.

Gaudu kept piling on the pressure through the final kilometers yet was unable to distance the resilient Roglič. The duo eventually came to an agreement, leaving Gaudu, 24, to take the stage as Roglič rolled toward the classfication title.

With two stage wins at last year’s Vuelta a España also in the bag, Gaudu is steadily developing as one of the best climbers in the bunch and a new focus for his Groupama-FDJ squad.

“It was crazy, an incredible day. I hadn’t experienced any other like it before. I was always calm and confident, and I didn’t think too much. I raced the way I wanted to and it paid off. I especially want to remember how I won. It came down to the legs the whole day, from the beginning to the end, and I came away with the win. Maybe this is what makes me most happy.

“Roglič told me he didn’t care about the stage. I knew that if I took him to the finish in the last climb, he would let me take the victory. But I needed to get rid of Carthy first. I attacked, and when I saw he was dropped, I gave it my all. My director was yelling on the radio, the fans were also shouting on the side of the road. My legs didn’t even hurt anymore … I was having goosebumps, it was crazy!”

https://twitter.com/Eurosport_UK/status/1380918183083847684

Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates): 17th on GC, 23rd on stage

It was a tough day for Brandon McNulty.

The 23-year-old started the stage in the yellow leader’s jersey but ended it down in 17th overall after losing his legs on the testing slopes of the Krabelin climb with some 50km to go. McNulty was left chasing solo after being isolated from his team and bravely battled to the end to limit his losses and finish 23rd on the day.

Although the Arizonan lost a slot on the podium, this week’s Itzulia continued a strong start to the season that has seen him impress at both Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya. After finishing 15th overall at the Giro d’Italia last year, McNulty stands out as one of the brightest young prospects in American cycling.

“Quite the roller coaster here at the Itzulia Basque Country this week. We were on the unlucky end of a gap opened on a tricky descent, so we were already on the back foot before the action really started. Thank you all for the encouragement this week! We keep on fighting.”