Itzulia Basque Country stage 3: Pello Bilbao edges out Julian Alaphilippe in reduced bunch gallop
Primož Roglič retains overall race lead after making late-race selection with teammate Jonas Vingegaard.
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Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) won stage 3 of the 2022 Itzulia Basque Country in a reduced bunch sprint, edging out stage 2 winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe).
In what looked to be a repeat of the finale on Tuesday, Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) took to the front from 1.5km to go, and did a 1km turn for his teammate and world champion Alaphilippe to try to set up the rainbow jersey for a win.
However, Bilbao managed to position himself well, and hold the charging French rider by a small margin to score the win.
“It’s hard to describe what it’s like to win at home after so many attempts… Finally! And in addition to the sprint, in front of a world champion,” Bilbao said. “It’s impossible to describe what it’s like to win at home, at last, after so many efforts. And then to do that by beating world champion Julian Alaphilippe in a sprint. It’s just incredible.”
Bilbao has shown promising results in 2022, finishing third overall at the UAE Tour, and fifth at Strade Bianche.
How it happened
The breakaway off the front at 70km to go slugged it out on a white gravel road climb.
Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates), Cristian Rodriguez (TotalEnergies), and Hugo Houle (Israel-Premier Tech) little more than 2:00 on the main bunch, with Geraint Thomas and tao Geoghagan Hart (both Ineos Grenadiers) leading the chase.
Jumbo-Visma and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl were right alongside the Ineos group patrolling the front of the peloton.
Polanc and Rodriguez battled for KOM points, with Polanc coming out on top.
Two swapped places on the successive climb, in which Rodriguez attacked again, dropping Polanc, and going solo at 63km to go.
Behind, 2018 Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) sat on the front, stony-faced, with teammate Tao Geoghagan Hart for company, with Adam Yates in the green jersey just behind.
The pace of the chasing bunch eased, and Rodriguez, still at the front, was allowed a sizable 4:00 advantage at 40km to go. But this would not last.
The chasers absorbed Polanc at 39km to go, where he slotted in with the rest of his teammates on the front, next to the Ineos squad.
Rodriguez’s large margin was not allowed for long and over the next 5km a minute was shaved from it. Another minute came off his lead with 30km remaining, and he was the solo rider on the front with just 2:00 between him and the group with all four of the classification jerseys in it.
He was scooped up on the final climb, the Ozeka, when a group of 16 had gone off the front of the main bunch.
The remaining 20km was undulating, and the bunch at the front of the race could not get much separation amongst themselves, despite several attempts to break up the group.
Alaphilippe kept the pace high at the front, with help from Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Yates, and Evenepoel.
Overall race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) was never far from the front with 8km to go, and did a short turn at the front to test others’ legs.
Rodriguez, who had been in the break earlier had made the front group, sat in, still recovering from his failed solo gambit.
Bilbao attacked at 5.6km to go. This move was covered by Enric Mas (Movistar) and Alaphilippe, but it was a portent of things to come.
The pace was ratcheted up from 5km to 2km to go, before the young Belgian Quick-Step rider took to the front, delivering the world champion to striking distance of the finish line.
But Spaniard Bilbao was the best legs of the day.
“In the finale, Remco did an outstanding job for me again. Unfortunately, my legs still really hurt. And I came across a very strong Pello Bilbao,” said Alaphilippe.
Overall leader Roglič lost a few positions, as the route twisted and turned in the final few hundred meters, but still finished well enough to retain his GC ranking.
Thursday’s 185.6km stage 4 will travel from the capital in Araba, Vitoria-Gasteiz, to Zamudio, very close to Bilbao’s home. Four categorized climbs are in store, with what could be a decisive ascent of the Vivero (6km at 6.2 percent) with 20km remaining in the stage.
Results will be available once stage has completed.