Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) won Tuesday’s stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco, this time without a protest, at least not from his part.
A day after he was awarded victory in Monday’s opener at the hilly Basque Country tour when judges ruled that Oscar Freire (Rabobank) shut down his sprint, the reigning Vuelta a España champion won with a very similar maneuver of closing down Freire’s sprint in the final meters.
Valverde had a clear shot to the line and boxed out Freire to second place (the three-time world champion was relegated to last place in the front bunch Monday) in the 217km second stage from Zierbena to Viana. Freire did not file a protest, thought he did mutter at the line it was a very similar finale to what cost him the win Monday.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions) continued on his good run, sprinting to sixth in the stage and slotted into third overall, at 1 second back. Teammate Daniel Martin also finished safely in the front group and moved into sixth overall while Chris Horner (RadioShack) kept his GC hopes alive at 18th overall also at 1 second back.
With no time bonuses awarded at finish lines or intermediate sprints, the GC fight should come down to a mano-a-mano duel, perhaps all the way down to the wire to Saturday’s individual time trial.
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) finished safely in the main bunch Tuesday after making it over six rated climbs, but forfeited too much time in Monday’s first stage at 1:38 back to have a realistic shot at victory.
The longest stage of this year’s Basque Country tour was marked by an escape featuring Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Javier Benitez (Footon-Servetto). With several major climbs on tap, the gap grew to more than six minutes before the GC favorites of Garmin, Saxo Bank and Caisse d’Epargne began to chip away at their advantage.
The break was reeled in within 20km of the finale, when a handful of riders, including former winner, José Angel Marchante (Andalucia-CajaSur) tried in vain to escape in the closing moments of the stage.
The 50th Basque Country tour continues Wednesday with the 187km third stage from Viana to Amurrio in a four-climb stage that should give Freire one more shot at a stage victory that he wants from this year’s race.
The climbs come fast and early, with day’s final climb, a third-category, coming with less than 40km to go.
Top 10-Stage 2
1. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Sp), Caisse D’epargne, 5:53:40
2. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank, at 0:0
3. Francesco Gavazzi (Ita), Lampre-N.G.C, at 0:01
4. Michael Albasini (Swi), Htc-Columbia, at 0:01
5. Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0:01
6. Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Garmin-Transitions, at 0:01
7. Kristijan Koren (Slo), Liquigas Doimo, at 0:01
8. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus), Team Katusha, at 0:01
9. Damiano Cunego (Ita), Lampre-N.G.C, at 0:01
10. Paul Martens (Ger), Rabobank, at 0:01