Mikel Iturria soloes to Stage 11 glory – Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a Espana 2019

Stage 11

Local Basque rider Mikel Iturria soloed to an emotional maiden professional win to defy an indecisive chase group in a nail-biting conclusion to Stage 11 after a daring attack from the breakaway 25 kilometres from the finish.

Distanced by his fellow escapees on the third and final categorised climb of the 180km stage from Saint-Palais in France, 27-year-old Iturria of the Basque wildcard Euskadi-Murias team roared back into contention on the lumpy approach to Urdax-Dantxarinea.

Iturria opened up a gap of 45 seconds as the race returned to Spanish soil after another loop into France – and despite his advantage coming down to a handful of seconds over a chasing group, he held on for a memorable win just 50km from his hometown.

“When I was asked which stage I wanted to win, I said this one – with my family here. I’ve always dreamed of something like this, because I’m a worker not a winner,” Iturria said.

“Before the Vuelta I came here to recon the stage. I dedicate it to those who were with me.”

Spain’s Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) led home the uncooperative five-man chase group ahead of the American Lawson Craddock (EF Education First) six seconds in arrears.

Another group containing Basque riders Gorka Izagirre (Astana) and Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) crossed the line 12 seconds down ahead of the remnants of the initial 14-man break.

Such was the advantage of the break, the peloton was 10km away and still in another country when Iturria punched the air to celebrate a famous victory – which comes after earlier wins for fellow wildcard teams Cofidis and Burgos-BH.

The peloton was eventually led home by the Jumbo-Visma team of red jersey Primoz Roglic some 18’35” in arrears, the Slovenian easily retaining his 1’52” lead over Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the general classification.

Crossing the line a couple of minutes before the pack was the Spaniard Angel Madrazo, the polka dot jersey and Stage 5 winner for Burgos-BH, who was part of the break before being distanced on the second climb around 60km from the finish.

Madrazo nevertheless extended his lead in the King of the Mountains competition, while Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez retained the white jersey and Roglic, the race leader, the green points classification jersey.

An undulating ride through the Basque Country both sides of the French and Spanish border took the riders over three categorised climbs, past towns along the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail, and through lush countryside of true bucolic beauty.

Jumbo-Visma at the head of the peloton during today’s stage.

With breakaway practically written across its metaphorical forehead, the 180km stage was animated from the outset as the nose of the peloton jostled for positions over an early brow before 11 riders managed to open up a gap.

Joining the polka dot jersey of Madrazo on the front of the race were Jorge Arcas (Movistar Team), François Bidard (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier and Ben O’Connor (both Dimension Data), Damien Howson (Mitchelton-Scott) and Matteo Fabbro (Katusha-Alpecin), as well as Iturria, Izagirre, Aranburu and Craddock.

If local rider Cyril Barthe, the only Frenchman in the Basque Euskadi-Murias team, failed in his bid to bridge over, there was success for Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Benjamin Thomas (Groupama-FDJ) and Lastra, who managed to join on the rolling roads to take the numbers up to 14.

Madrazo extended his lead in the King of the Mountains competition by taking maximum points over the Cat.3 Col d’Osquich. But the Spaniard was first to implode on the Cat.2 Col d’Ispeguy after a series of accelerations from Izagirre and O’Connor.

For O’Connor, it was a last-ditch bluff, the Australian soon joining the man in polka dots off the back of the break as the race approached the Spanish border.

Aranburu crested in pole position ahead of Izagirre as the race re-entered Spain following its French foray, which included Tuesday’s time trial in Pau. The Basque duo opened a small gap before being joined by five others on the Cat.3 Col de Otxondo.

Howson and Craddock attacked before the summit, shortly joined by Aranburu with 35km remaining. The tide then ebbed and flowed as numerous riders accelerated or – in the case of both Fabbro and Cavagna – recovered from untimely punctures.

With the riders crossing the border once again and returning to France, Iturria managed to ride back into contention on a descent before zipping clear before the others had even registered his plucky revival.

An uncategorised climb 10km from the finish made the chasers complacent and they seemed to be relying on Iturria hitting the wall. There was very little cooperation or commitment as nerves got the better of the group, which soon trailed the lone leader by 45 seconds.

Lastra, Ghebreigzabhier, Howson, Bidard and Craddock emerged as the main contenders from a motley bunch following the climb, but they still trailed Iturria by 10 seconds.

Entering the final two kilometres, Ghebreigzabhier and Howson rode clear and seemed to have Iturria caught. But a sudden downhill sweep played into the hands of the leader, who held on to take a wonderful win by six seconds.

Coming up: Stage 12 – Circuito de Navarra to Bilbao (171.4km)

The breakaway artists will have another bite of the apple on Thursday as the riders tackle rolling terrain over four lower-category climbs before a downhill finish on the Atlantic coast. With Caja Rural-Seguros RGA team the only wildcard outfit yet to notch a win, expect the Spanish pro-continental team to get in the mix, especially with Aranburu and Lastra now having both finished runners-up.

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