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Riders decry Itzulia Basque Country downhill dangers: ‘It was life-threatening’

Marc Soler breaks thumb, and stage-winner Ide Schelling called out the 2.7km downhill finale: 'It was too crazy in my opinion.'

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Scores of riders complained that the narrow, steep descending run to the finish line in Tuesday’s second stage at Itzulia Basque Country was too dangerous for a WorldTour race.

A few riders crashed in the harrowing, 2.7km descent that included no less than 30 twists and turns down a steep, second-category summit.

The peloton hit speeds of more than 70kph as riders fought for position and tried to stay upright. Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) crashed out with a broken thumb, and Clément Champoussin (Arkéa-Samsic) also went down.

“It was a very dangerous final,” said French rider David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), who finished third. “It was more than over the edge. It was life-threatening.”

Stage-winner Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe) also suggested the fast, harrowing descent was too sketchy to feature at the end of the stage.

“I am very happy to win. It’s a bit strange that the UCI allows this final because it was too crazy in my opinion. We saw some crashes, and I could avoid the crashes, and with 1km to go, I could open my sprint,” Schelling said. “To win here at the WorldTour level is incredible.

“To have so many curves in a downhill like this is asking for problems. It’s not good. Most teams were not expecting a sprint,” he said. “I am pretty crazy myself, and I am pretty good on the downhills, and I was in good position in the final K.”

Riders and managers were at least happy the stage was contested in dry conditions. The sometimes-notorious spring weather in Spain’s Basque Country is so far delivering perfect conditions.

Movistar’s Alex Aranburu, who hails from the Basque region, tried in vain to use his local knowledge to attack on the descent before finishing fourth.

“Finishing downhill is always dangerous, yes. It wasn’t a real sprint, it was whoever was at the front in the final corner won the stage,” Aranburu said. ”

The field is loaded with top GC stars, including defending Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard. The Dane was well-protected by his Jumbo-Visma teammates, and finished 15th with the front group to remain fifth overall.

Team managers and sport directors were on edge all day knowing the worst was to come.

“I’m not a fan of a finish that risky. Fortunately, it wasn’t wet, and we suffered no damage,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Frans Maassen. “We anticipated that the descent would decide today’s final. We focused on it beforehand. Our main goal today was getting Jonas to the finish safely.

“I think our plan worked pretty well,” he said. “Jonas knew what to expect and went full-speed downhill like everyone else. We had already warned him that it would be super dangerous. I am happy that everything went well.”

More thrills are expected in Wednesday’s rollercoaster stage featuring five third-category climbs on the notoriously narrow and steep Basque roads. The finish ends up a steep wall of 700m at 8.8 percent.

At least it’s going uphill this time.

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