Rodriguez wins in Basque Country, Valverde defends lead
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Friday, April 9, 2010

Rodriguez wins in Basque Country, Valverde defends lead

by Bjorn Haake at 11:20 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results

Joaquím Rodríguez attacked 21km from the line to take a well deserved win in the fifth stage of the Volta al País Vasco. He saved 14 seconds ahead of Samuel Sánchez, Alejandro Valverde and Chris Horner. Valverde managed to keep the yellow jersey, but Rodríguez jumped up to a podium spot. Sixth placed Damiano Cunego abandoned the race early on, Robert Gesink lost time after a flat.

Rodríguez was relieved that he had recovered after he lost 49 seconds yesterday. "I was very sad for my result yesterday. Today it couldn't have gone any better," he said to Basque television at the finish. Rodríguez fell away from the podium area yesterday and knew he had to do something special. "I decided to go from pretty far out. I didn't want to wait until the final climb."

The peloton had to tackle the alto de Aia twice in the final 20 kilometers, from two different roads. Rodriguez went right at the bottom of the first ascent, quickly gobbling up the break of the day. The Katusha rider stayed ahead on the second ascent, which was a spectacular hill. With gradients of up to 22 percent and a throng of Basque fans out, it almost looked like a climb in the Tour of Flanders - if it weren't for the sunny weather with the nice temperatures. Rodriguez increased his lead to a maximum of 44 seconds. Trailing by 48 seconds in GC, there was brief hope of even getting yellow.

But the chase behind, organized by Valverde, Samuel Sánchez and Chris Horner, eventually gained back most of the time by the finish. After winning the GP Miguel Indurain and the Volta a Catalunya, Rodríguez did not want to complain. "It is going really well so far this season." All he has to do is to shell out a decent time trial on tomorrow's final day. "Ending on the podium would be outstanding," the Spaniard beamed.

Tough overall battle

The fight for the overall win will be the most talked about item, however. Horner managed to answer to all the attacks from Valverde and sits one second behind the Spaniard in the general classification. The 22km time trial finishes the Tour of the Basque Country tomorrow with a challenging route.

"We rode part of the course on today's stage," Valverde said. "I like it and it should suit me well. But Horner is a good time trialer." Valverde was only thinking about recovery and getting ready for Saturday's showdown. "Today was another difficult stage," he said.

Rodríguez had put him under quite some pressure. "Fortunately, Sánchez attacked and we were able to get back some time." Earlier, his team had control of the race on the front. "They were working very well today. It is normal that they weren't there in the end, as they had done their job."

Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was once again in the break of the day, securing his lead in the mountains classification. But he crashed on the next-to-last descent and it almost looked like he had broken his collarbone. But he was eventually cleared to continue to ride and was pushed up the 22-percent pitches by the enthusiastic fans.

A large break pedals away

After 20km on another nice day in the Basque Country, 15 riders took off, including the eternal breakaway champion, Amets Txurruka. He wanted to defend his lead in the mountains classification and with six climbs for the day, an early move seemed promising.

Despite the 15-man move caught before the top of the eight-kilometer long Santa Agueda, Txurruka didn't give up. He joined nine other riders who took off in the descent.

The move briefly splintered when Txurruka, Michael Albasini and David Loosli gained a couple of minutes on the others (km 88). Loosli even continued solo and crested the top of the Meagas climb ahead of the duo Txurruka/Albasini. The other seven followed behind, with the peloton around five minutes back.

After 110km, Loosli, Txurruka and Albasini were caught again. The re-unified break went over the Venats de Orio only two and a half minutes ahead of the bunch, which had picked up speed through the work of Caisse d'Epargne.

The ten riders were still ahead of the peloton by 90 seconds when they turned again towards the Atlantic Ocean, over one of the steep rises near the sea. AT the bottom waited the final sprint of the day, which the group reached 1'10 ahead of the bunch. The alto de Aia awaited them twice, on different roads. But neither was approach was funny with the maximum gradient of 22 percent.

As the break disintegrated on the front, Rodriguez attacked out of the main peloton with 21km to go.

He quickly passed most of the remnants of the break. His teammate Alexandr Kolobnev was able to hang on and provide some help. Alexander Efimkin and and Daniel Navarro also joined the Katusha train.

They had now only one rider ahead of them, a determined Txurruka. Txurruka passed the mountain banner solo, a few seconds ahead of the four-man chase. The peloton was still a minute behind. But Txurruka lost his concentration on the descent and crashed entering a sweeping right hand turn. He was ok, but caught by the peloton.

The final climb, also the alto de Aia, had to bring the decision. Valverde attacked in order to get back to Rodríguez. He was well marked, and after the top, there was some soft pedaling in the group. Sánchez used his downhill skills to attack, drawing Valverde and Horner with him. But the three weren't collaborating, as Horner sat on the back and group of around a dozen riders caught back up.

At this point Rodríguez was 38 seconds ahead, only ten seconds less then he needed to close in on Valverde's overall lead. With the group behind still sorting things out, Rodríguez brought it up to as much as 44 seconds.

But with the final kilometers flat or even uphill again, the group then gained back a lot of time. The strongest riders in the break - Valverde, Sánchez and Horner - were able to use the uphill to attack the group again and reach the finish six seconds earlier - but 14 seconds behind the day's jubilant winner.

Stage result

1. Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha)
2. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
3. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
4. Chris Horner (RadioShack)

General classification after stage 5

1. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
2. Chris Horner (RadioShack) at 0'01
3. Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) at 0'34
4. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
5. Beñat Intxausti (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
6. Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
7. Marco Pinotti (HTC) at 0'54
8. Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
9. Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux)


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