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After three consecutive Orica-GreenEDGE victories, Felline narrowly edged out Matthews in the sprint on the Vuelta al Pais Vasco stage to Vitoria-Gasteiz; Matthews defended his lead

Photo: Sirotti

FABIO FELLINE

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ITZULIA BASQUE COUNTRY

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MICHAEL MATTHEWS

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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TONY GALLOPIN

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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07.04.2015 @ 18:11 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Fabio Felline (Trek) took his first WorldTour victory when he broke the Orica-GreenEDGE dominance in the traditional Vuelta al Pais Vasco to Vitoria-Gasteiz. After three consecutive victories for the Australian team in the Basque city, he launched a long sprint when the peloton powered towards the finish line in the 2015 edition of the stage and he narrowly held off Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) who had to console himself with the fact that he defended his leader’s jersey.

 

Since the team was founded in 2012, Orica-GreenEDGE have dominated the Vuelta al Pais Vasco stage to Vitoria-Gasteiz. In the first year of its existence, the team won the stage with Daryl Impey who repeated the performance one year later before Michael Matthews won the stage in 2014.

 

After Matthews’ victory in the first stage of the 2015 edition of the Basque race, the team was determined to make it four in a row in the city and they worked hard in the final part of the stage to set up the expected bunch sprint. When it all came down to the business end of the stage, however, they were edged out by an in-form Fabio Felline who added another victory to the one he took in the Criterium International time trial.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE had done everything right in the first part of the stage and were in a good position when they crested the summit of the Alto de Zaldiaran with 9km to go. They hid a little further back while they allowed Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and Thiabut Pinot (FDJ) to set the pace but were forced into action when Tom-Jelte Slagter (Cannondale-Garmin) launched a surprise attack.

 

The Dutchman showed great descending skills to build an advantage of 10 seconds and Orica-GreenEDGE had to combine forces with Etixx-QuickStep when they hit the flat roads with 4km to go. Michael Albasini and Petr Vakoc did a huge job on the front and just after they passed the 3km to go mark, they had brought the lone leader back.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE were now in control with Albasini, Simon Yates, Daryl Impey and Matthews lined out on the front but they had hit the front too early. Albasini swung off and when Yates started to fade, they were passed by the Etixx-QuickStep train which was doing the lead-out for Gianni Meersman.

 

The Belgian team led the peloton under the flamme rouge before Tony Martin did the final lead-out for his sprinter. However, Impey and Matthews had positioned themselves well on their wheel and from there the South African powered ahead, putting Matthews in a perfect position for the sprint.

 

However, Felline had positioned himself on Matthews’ wheel and from there he anticipated the race leader. Matthews reacted to slowly and despite being the fastest, he failed to pass the Italian who took his first WorldTour victory. Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) edged out Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) in a photo finish for third.

 

With no bonus seconds in the race, Matthews defended his lead on a countback while Kwiatkowski remains in second in the same time as the race leader. The Pole will be ready to strike tomorrow when the GC battle is expected to start on a very hilly third stage. After an easy start with three smaller climbs, the finale is littered with short, steep climbs and the brutally steep Alto de la Antigua will be the scene of the first battle between the GC riders before they descend the final 3km to the finish in Zumarraga.

 

One for the sprinters

After the hilly opener, the Vuelta al Pais Vasco continued which its easiest stage which brought the riders over 175.4km from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz. After a flat start, the riders tackled the first category 1 climb, Alto de Orduna, before they hit the plateau around the finishing city. Here they tackled a total of five category 3 climbs that were all pretty easy, with the final ascent being the Alto de Zaldiaran (5.2km, 3.42%) summiting 9km from the finish. From there it was a fast descent and a short flat stretch to the finish where a bunch sprint was expected.

 

For the second day in a row, the riders took the start under a beautiful sunny sky but there was a bit of controversy at the sign-in. Due to the very dangerous finale of yesterday’s stage that left Peter Stetina (BMC) and Sergio Pardilla (Caja Rural) with very serious injuries, the riders delayed the start by 5 minutes to protest. Those two riders, Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) who were also involved in the crash, were the four non-starters.

 

The break is formed

Unlike yesterday, the race got off to a pretty fast start with numerous attacks and it took a little longer for the early break to be formed. After 4km of attacking, Kevin De Weert (LottoNL-Jumbo), Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Sebastien Reichenbach (IAM), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) and Thierry Hupond (Giant-Alpecin) got clear and as the peloton was content with the composition, they quickly got a big gap.

 

At the 7km mark, the escapees were already 2 minutes ahead and their advantage reached 7.30 after 24km of racing. The peloton was still in no mood to react and so the gap reached 10.36 at the 31km mark.

 

Movistar hit the front

This was the signal for Movistar to kick into action and the Spanish team hit the front to control the situation. As they hit the bottom of the category 1 Alto de Orduna, the gap had been reduced to 9.25.

 

Unsurprisingly, Txurruka was intent on picking up the mountain points and so he attacked 1km from the summit. He crested the top as the first rider followed by Reichenbach, Hupon, Vervaeke and De Weert before he dropped back to his companions. At this point, the gap had been reduced to 8 minutes and it was Joathan Castroviejo who led the bunch over the top.

 

Weening hits the front

Castroviejo was working hard with Jose Herrada and Giovanni Visconti and they made an acceleration to reduce the deficit to 6.00 before they again slowed down. When the gap was back up to 6.40, they made their next acceleration to reduce it to 5.30 where they kept it stable for some time.

 

 

The relaxed atmosphere was briefly put on hold with 70km to go when the windy conditions forced the big teams to position themselves near the front. At his point, Orica-GreenEDGE started to chase with Pieter Weening who briefly worked with the three Movistar riders before all the work was left to him.

 

The gap melts away

While the Dutchman rode fast up the third climb, a small crash brought down Brian Bulgac (LottoNL) and Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis). A little further up the road, Reichenbach narrowly edged Txurruka out in the KOM sprint. At the top, Weening had reduced the gap to 4.08.

 

Weening was joined by his teammate Simon Gerrans who started to work on the descent while Vervaeke led Txurruka and De Weert across the line in the first intermediate sprint. Moments later they hit the Alto de Zaldiaran for the first time with an advantage of just 2.45.

 

The break splits up

Michael Albasini was now also working with Gerrans and Weening and their fast pace caused the first riders to get dropped. Meanwhile, Vervaeke attacked in the front group and De Weert and Hupond were both distanced. As they approached the summit, Txurruka attack and at the top he had a 6-second gap over Reichenbach and Vervaeke before he again waited for his companions.

 

The gap was now 2.15 and Weening, Albasini and Gerrans did not slow down. With 35km to go, they brought De Weert and Hupond back while Vervaeke launched an unsuccessful attack from the front group.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE stop their work

As they hit the Alto de Vitoria with 31km to go, the gap was only 1.10 and now several teams were working hard to position themselves near the front. No one wanted to challenge Txurruka in the KOM sprint which he won ahead of Reichenbach and Vervaeke before the peloton crossed the line 50 seconds later.

 

Vervaeke led Reichenbach and Txurruka across the line in the second sprint and he seemed to be the only one really interested in keeping the break going. Txurruka had now stopped working as the gap was down to 10 seconds but as Orica-GreenEDGE suddenly disappeared from the front, the gap grew back up to 20 seconds.

 

A big fight for position

Katusha hit the front with Maxim Belkov, Sergey Lagutin and Alexandr Kolobnev as they won the big fight for position. They led the peloton onto the Alto de Zaldiaran where Reichenbach launched two attacks before he got clear with Txurruka.

 

Riders now started to get dropped as Lagutin rode on the front for Katusha and brought the front duo back. Later Tinkoff-Saxo, Ag2r, Astana and Lampre-Merida lined out their trains on the front before Tinkoff-Saxo set the tempo with Robert Kiserlovski.

 

Rohan Dennis took a short turn for BMC and then Pawel Poljanski took over for Tinkoff-Saxo. Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida) was next before Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky) launched an attack with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The pair briefly got a small gap but as they reached the summit Izagirre had shut it down and from there they headed down the descent that was the scene of Slagter’s attack.

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