Itzulia Basque Country stage 5: Sergio Higuita snags the win

Follow all the GC action as Jonas Vingegaard, Brandon McNulty, and Richard Carapaz face off at the six-stage race across Spain's Basque Country.

Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

Sergio Higuita (Bora Hansgrohe) kicked to victory Friday in stage 5 at the Itzulia Basque Country in a reduced bunch sprint for his first victory in 2023.

Late-stage climbs split the bunch, with Higuita faster than Andrea Bagioli (Soudal Quick-Step) at the line.

“We knew the finish and I knew I had to make a long sprint, and it’s hard to pass in the finale, and I went early and I had the legs to stay at the front,” Higuita said. “We knew it was going to be a hard stage, and I tried to stay calm for this finish that I knew would be a good chance for me.

“This means a lot to win here, a race that I love and after a few months of some health issues,” Higuita said. “Tomorrow is a brutal stage, and the fatigue will be a factor in what will be agony on the bike.”

Overnight leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) actually widened his lead to Mikel Landa by 1 second after picking up another bonus second at a mid-race sprint.

Vingegaard was vigilant in the up and down stage, and marked every move in the closing kilometers.

With a big climbing stage set up for the “queen stage” in Saturday’s seven-climb final stage, the Dane knows he needs to be at his sharpest.

“It was a tricky day, with a strong breakaway, so it was a big fight to bring them back,” Vingegaard said. “The team did a great job to sacrifice everything for me.

“It’s always a big mess in the last stage at the Basque Country. I’ve done it three times, and it’s been a big mess every time I’ve done it. We’ll do all we can to defend the leader’s jersey tomorrow.”

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Stage 4: Jonas Vingegaard reinforces GC lead with dominant final move

Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) kicked hard on the final climb, dragged away Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), and beat back the resilient local in a tense sprint for victory Thursday in stage 4 of Itzulia Basque Country.

U.S. talent Brandon McNulty (UAE Emirates) was active in the chasing pack but was bettered by Mauro Schmid (Soudal Quick-Step) in the sprint for third. McNulty was fifth in the Santurtzi sprint.

“I am happy to take the win and I did not expect that this morning. I felt good on the last climb, and people were attacking, and I thought, ‘why not try?'” Vingegaard said at the finish.

“Landa came up to me and we started to work together. They came close in the end and I was still able to win the sprint.”

The stage went down to the wire after Vingegaard’s crucial attack.

Landa and the Dane descended toward the finish line and cat-and-moused through the final as the peloton roared into view behind. Vingegaard led out the sprint, and had the legs to finish it off for an empatic victory.

Vingegaard’s second victory in two days gives the Tour de France defending champion a 12-second GC lead over Landa. David Gaudu (Groupam FDJ) is third overall at 31 seconds ahead of the final two stages of racing.

Vingegaard isn’t counting his chickens ahead of a pair of tricky hill-laden stages in the Basque region.

“It’s is also a tricky day tomorrow, we have to see how it is,” he said.

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S3:Vingegaard wins up brutal wall, takes lead

Vingegaard climbed into the Basque leader’s jersey Wednesday.

Jonas Vingegaard surged to victory Wednesday up a brutal wall to double up with the race lead in stage 3 at Itzulia Basque Country.

The 2022 Tour de France champion fended off Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Enric Mas (Movistar) in 25-percent steep finishing climb.

“It is one of my favorite races. I enjoy racing here in the Basque Country, it’s always hard. I am proud and happy to take the victory today,” Vingegaard said. “The team did a great job to control and to keep me at the front all day.

“The last climb was very, very, very steep. I felt good and I wanted to go for it,” he said. “I didn’t expect to have a gap, so I was a bit surprised. It’s always better to be in the jersey. There are still a lot of days to come and a lot of hard racing to come.”

Riders bumped shoulders in the final steep “muro,” with Sergio Higuita (Bora Hansgrohe) being nudged into the fences by a riding peeling off. He corrected his balance, and knocked into some riders behind the Vingegaard, including Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost).

Esteban Chaves (EF Education-EasyPost) jumped a late climb to charge toward the penultimate climb with a slender lead on more chasers. Juanpe Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) and James Knox (Soudal Quick-Step) bridged out to join to carry a small gap of 14 seconds to the final wall.

Knox jumped at the “red kite” to hold a seven-second gap ahead of the leaders, but he was soon swamped.

Vingegaard was well-positioned going into the final grinding finale, and turned on the turbos to snatch the victory.

Overnight leader Ide Schelling (Bora Hansgrohe) struggled to match the pace as the GC favorites pressed the front. There was barely a flat road on the rollercoaster stage.

The Basque Country tour continues Thursday with the 175.7km fourth stage on a circuit course in Santurtzi. It’s another hilly stage, with three third-category climbs and a Cat. 2 summit with 14km to the line.

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Stage 2: Ide Schelling fastest in fast descent

Ide Schelling (Bora Hansgrone) won a tense battle of position on a narrow, twisting run-in to the finish line to win stage 3 at the Iztulia Basque Country.

Schelling surged into the front position and fended off Matteo Sobrero (Jayco-AlUla) for the victory. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) kicked to third to pick up some bonus seconds in the GC.

Schelling suggested the fast, harrowing descent was too dangerous 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.”

Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) finished safely in fifth to keep his GC ambitions alive against a deep field, and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) also finished safely in the front bunch.

Overnight leader Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) had a big day ahead of him to keep the jersey, and finished more than 18 minutes off the pace. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) did not start due to fever, and three riders did not finish, including Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates), out with a fractured thumb on the final descent.

With time bonuses, Schelling also moved into the overall lead.

An early break was controlled, and then some riders peeled clear in the final hour of racing, but it was a real fight for position up the final climb. A break hung on just to the top of the final climb with less than 3km to go.

The crazy finale featured no less than 30 twists and curves in the closing 2.7km, with a fast, narrow descent to the line.

Race radio reported that defending champion Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) suffered a mechanical, perhaps a puncture, on the descent, and he gave up 30 seconds at the line.

The 62nd Iztulia Basque Country continues Wednesday with the 153.9km third stage from Errenteria to Amasa-Villabona.

The up-and-down stage features five third-category climbs and ends with a short, sharp climb of 700m at 8.8 percent to the line. One for the punchiest of sprinters, and there could be splits in the bunch.

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S1: Ethan Hayter blasts to sprint victory

Hayter celebrates his first win in 2023 with a sprint victory Monday to open the Iztulia Basque Country. (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) came off a perfect leadout to sprint to victory in the opening stage of the Itzulia Basque Country on Monday.

Omar Fraile gave Hayter a perfect leadout in the narrow, rising finale, with the top GC favorites all finishing safely in the clean sprint.

“My team really backed me after I wasn’t amazing in Catalunya. They were all-in for me today, and I want to thank them,” Hayter said. “Omar is an expert in the Basque Country, and this final was perfect, and I only had to sprint the last 100 meters.

“This is my first win of my season. I broke my collarbone in Australia, and it took me awhile to come back from that,” he said.

Mauro Schmid (Soudal Quick-Step) kicked to second, with Jon Aberastsuri (Trek Segafredo) hitting third.

A three-rider break was pulled in as the main pack contested a bonus sprint with 20km to go. After doing some pulling, 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal pulled off and coasted in across the line several minutes back.

The field is packed with GC riders targeting one of the most prestigious and difficult one-week races on the men’s WorldTour calendar. Defending Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard finished in the bunch, on-time with Hayter.

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Big names on the march

The Basque Country tour sees some of the top GC favorites racing this week. (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

After the thrilling GC battle between Primož Roglič (Jumbo Visma) and Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step), the six-stage Basque Country tour sees another peloton full of top GC hitters.

Defending Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) since finishing third at Paris-Nice is back in the saddle.

Other big names include Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates), Simon Yates (Jayco-AlUla), defending champion Dani Martínez and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), Enric Mas (Movistar), Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ).

The 62nd Iztulia Basque Country continues Tuesday with the 193.8km second stage from Viana to Leitza. The rollercoaster, five-climb stage with Cat. 2 Arkiskil climb (11km at 3.1%) before a fast downhill to the finish line.

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