Carlos Betancur (Movistar) took his first win since the 2014 Paris-Nice when he came out on top in the windy, cold and lumpy first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. The Colombian went on the attack on the final climb inside the final 10km and after briefly having been distanced, he beat Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) in the two-rider sprint to take both the stage win and the leader’s jersey.
When he finished in the top 5 at the 2013 Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and was fifth overall at the Giro d’Italia while also winning the white jersey, Carlos Betancur seemed to be destined for greatness. Despite being clearly overweight, he went on to win the 2014 Paris-Nice but since then it has been a sad story for the Colombian.
Betancur often returned from Colombia with several extra kilos and as he also had a fallout with his former Ag2r team, he never found peak condition after that big win in the Race to the Sun. He showed signs of form at the 2015 Giro but in August, the disciplinary problems became too much for the French team and the parties decided to terminate their relationship with immediate effect.
Movistar made a bit of a gamble by signing Betancur but after he made a late debut at the Giro d’Italia – still carrying several extra kilos – nothing has suggested that he was ready to return to his former level. He showed signs of progress at the Circuit Cycliste Sarthe though and now he seems to have turned things around after he took a surprise win in the first stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.
In a race where Movistar were expected to focus fully on Alejandro Valverde, Betancur attacked on the final climb inside the final 10km after a long day with rain and cold conditions. He joined forces with Pello Bilbao who briefly managed to distance his Colombian rival but Betancur made it back in time for the two-rider sprint which he won.
The 31st edition of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon kicked off with a 166.3km stage that brought the riders from Alcanices to the Portuguese city of Braganca. The first part is made up of a big 101km circuit that included the category 3 Alto de Carmona (3km, 5.3%). From there, the riders headed to the finishing city, going up the category 3 Alto de Braganca (2.1km, 5.7%) 21.2km from the finish. In the end, they did one lap of 13.7km circuit with the category 3 Alto do Castillo (3.5km, 5.1%) whose summit came just 7.6km from the line. From there, it was slightly downhill until the final 3km wre slightly uphill in a technical finale that included a late turn just 300m from the line.
The riders were greeted by rainy and cold conditions when they gathered for the start but that didn’t stop Thomas Baylis (ONE) from attacking after just 2.5km of racing. He quickly got a small advantage before Adam Phelan (Drapac), Aitor Gonzales (Euskadi), Jorge Cubero (Burgos), Peio Goitkoetxea (Manzana), Fernando Grijalba (Inteja) and Raul Alarcon (W52) took off in pursuit. At the 12km mark, they trailed the leader by 12 seconds while the peloton was 47 seconds behind. Moments later, Antonio Barbio (Efapel) joined them.
The seven chasers caught Baylis and pushed the gap out to 1.27 in the rainy conditions. It was 2.15 at the 22km mark and it went out to a maximum of 3.25 after 27km of racing before the peloton started to stabilize the situation.
While the peloton kept the gap at around 3 minutes, Alarcon beat Baylis and Phelan in the first KOM sprint at the 38km mark. However, they quickly has to resume the cooperation as the peloton was going fast. At the 51km mark, the gap had already been reduced to 2.25 and nine kilometres later, it was just 2.05.
After 70km of racing, the gap had already dropped to less than 2 minutes but they managed to push it out to a little more than 2 minutes when the passed through the feed zone at the 87km mark. Surprisingly, the peloton slowed down again and after 107km of racing, the gap was again 3.20.
Lokosphinx and W52 started to chase but they failed to get any closer. With 44km to go, the gap had reached a maximum of 3.50 and this was the signal for Movistar to take responsibility. While Baylis rejoined the break after a puncture, they started to real the escapees in.
With 19km to go, Cubero had punctured out of the break which was only 1.35 ahead of the peloton. Baylis and Alarcon were the next to surrender, leaving just five riders in the lead with 13km to go. At this point, the gap was only 20 seconds and with the peloton breathing down his next, Goikoetxea took off in a solo move. With 9km to go, however, it was all back together.
Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) took off as they hit the final climb but he failed to get away. Instead, Carlos Betancur (Movistar) and Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) took off and as Movistar stopped their work, the pair had opened a 45-second advantage as they entered the final 6km.
Betancur was unable to keep up with Bilbao but with 2km to go, he managed to get back. In the end, it came down to a battle between the two escapees and here Betancur emerged as the fastest. 46 seconds later, Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural) won the sprint for third, with a late split causing a time loss of another 8 seconds for pre-race favourite Valverde wgo rolled across the line in 8th.
With the win, Betancur is of course the first leader with a 4-second advantage over Bilbao. He will try to defend his position in stage 2 which is another lumpy affair. After three early climbs, the terrain gets significantly flatter but in the finale the riders will tackle a 4.5km category 2 climb that averages 6.3% and summits just 3.1km from the line. From there, it is a flat run to the finish.
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