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Who’s Imanol Erviti? Spaniard stuns in Flanders

Imanol Erviti suprises with a top-10 finish at Flanders, the best result for his Movistar team and a stand-out finish for any Spaniard.

GENT, Belgium (VN) — It was one of those “who the heck is that?” moments late in Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.

There was a hint of a blue jersey in the final sprint behind the winners. Yes, it was a Movistar rider dashing to seventh, and, yes, it was Imanol Erviti, the same Spanish rider who had been in the day’s main breakaway. What the …?

The 32-year-old Spaniard was one of the top surprises Sunday in a race dominated by old favorites and established cobblestone specialists.

“Today was like a testimonial for me, riding at the front on the muurs, with so many fans enjoying the spectacle,” Erviti said. “It was incredible. I really enjoyed myself.”

Joy and pleasure are rarely associated with Flanders, and Erviti admitted the suffering came soon enough when the favorites attacked from behind. It took a long time Sunday for the break to stay clear, but Erviti followed the right wheels to escape with five other riders. Little did he know he would have the legs to ride all the way to Oudenaarde with the front group behind the three podium finishers.

“It was a maximum effort,” he said. “When Sagan, Kwiatkowski, and Vanmarcke bridged across to us, they were going very fast, and I could only try to stay with them and ride my own race intelligently. Until the last moment, I didn’t think it feasible to be fighting for a top-10.”

The 6-foot-2 Erviti was supposed to be the right-hand man for teammate Alejandro Valverde, but he pulled the plug on what was supposed to be his Flanders debut, opting for an altitude camp instead ahead of the Giro d’Italia next month. That meant Erviti had the green light to attack.

Movistar and Spain in general have never been much of a factor in the cobblestone classics. A Spanish rider has never won at the Ronde, and the smaller, lighter Spaniards usually fare better in the hillier Ardennes classics. Juan Antonio Flecha, second at Paris-Roubaix in 2007, and third at Flanders in 2008, is the only Spanish rider who recently had major success on the cobbles.

That’s what makes Erviti’s performance all that more remarkable. Not only did he have the legs to last in the breakaway, and then hold on when the attacks came, but he’s a rare Spanish-speaker lighting up the Flemish bergs.

Erviti is no stranger to Flemish racing, however. He has an impressive 38 “monument” starts on his palmares, and Sunday’s Flanders was his career 12th. He’s usually on super-domestique duty, helping Valverde and others in the Ardennes and other races. Until Sunday, his best Flanders result was 55th.

“At the Paterberg, I didn’t think I could continue or even make a top result,” he said. “In Flanders, the race always comes from behind, and I thought it would be unlikely. After that last climb, where I was with Terpstra and the group including Kristoff caught us, I began to hope. In the sprint, I gave it everything.”

Erviti has ridden his entire 12-year career in the Movistar franchise, and has always been a reliable worker. With a big motor and plenty of experience, Erviti is usually one of the last riders to help Valverde or Nairo Quintana deep in the most critical races. His seventh on Sunday was the first top-10 in the Movistar team history.

Erviti said at the end of the race “I could barely turn the pedals,” but vows to keep pushing. Up next are the Ardennes classics, with Valverde lining up for Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Up first is Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, more cobbles for the all-rounder from Pamplona.

“It is wonderful to have experienced this,” he said. “Now it is time to rest, savor the result, and turn my thoughts to the Ardennes with Alejandro. They are important races for us, and I want to do my job well.”