Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) surged to a morale-boosting victory ahead of his defense at Liège-Bastogne-Liège while Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) bounced back into the leader’s jersey at another animated stage at the Tour of the Basque Country Wednesday.
Vinokourov powered away from the reduced front group with about 4km to go in the 180km, four-climb run from Villatuerta to Zuia-Murgia on the downhill run off the day’s final climb. The veteran Kazakh used his TT power to drove him a seven-second lead on the hard-chasing pack, led across the line by Oscar Freire (Rabobank).
Rodríguez slipped back into the lead as Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) are tied with him on time. American Chris Horner (RadioShack) is in fourth place on GC, at one second, going into Thursday’s mountain-top finish at Arrate.
“It’s my first win of the year and the second for the team, so we are content,” Vinokourov said. “I’ve raced this race six or seven times, and this is the first time I’ve won here. I was thinking about trying to win tomorrow, but the legs felt good and they responded in the final kilometers. I am happy to win ahead of the Ardennes. I would like to try win one of the three races.”
Vinokourov barreled away in an animated finale that saw an early seven-man breakaway neutralized coming into the day’s final climb. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) made a run that absorbed by work by Lampre and Rabobank with about 5km to go.
Fabio Duarte (Geox-TMC) countered and opened a promising gap, but Vinokourov sprung clear with about 4km to go, catching the Colombian and then powering to a 12-second gap with two kilometers to go.
Rodríguez finished with the front group of leaders at eight seconds and slipped back into the leader’s jersey based on placings. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo), who also made a late-race move in the frenetic finale, remained fifth at six seconds back overall.
With no time bonuses, the GC remains a tight affair going into Thursday’s mountaintop finish at Arrate. Rodríguez said it should be a real dogfight up the short, but very steep first-category finale.
“Tomorrow will be a big war. We’ll see if I am up to it to fight for the overall. To tell the truth, I don’t like the climb. The only time I raced up it, I got dropped. We’ll see if I can do a little better tomorrow,” Rodríguez said. “It’s all very close. I see Sánchez a little sharper than anyone else. But Horner and Kloden are both strong, and there’s Gesink. It should be a beautiful stage.”
Warm, summer-like conditions continued through Wednesday’s third stage. Big crowds are expected to line the final climb up Arrete, which saw the decisive mountain-top battle in last year’s Vuelta as well.
Craig Lewis (HTC-Highroad) did not start and Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Danilo Di Luca (Katusha) did not finish.
- 1. Alexandre VINOKOUROV, (KAZ) Astana, at 4:20:38
- 2. Oscar FREIRE GOMEZ, (ESP) Rabobank Cycling Team, at 8
- 3. Paul MARTENS, (GER) Rabobank Cycling Team, at 8
- 4. Pim LIGTHART, (NED) Vacansoleil-DCM, at 8
- 5. Mikael CHEREL, (FRA) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 8
- 1. Joaquin RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, (Spain) Team Katusha, at 12:30:09
- 2. Andreas KLÖDEN, (Germany) Team RadioShack, at 0
- 3. Samuel SANCHEZ GONZALEZ, (Spain) Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0
- 4. Christopher HORNER, (United States) Team RadioShack, at 1
- 5. Ryder HESJEDAL, (Canada) Garmin-Cervelo, at 6