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"I still lost some positions in the end and had to fight back to get to the front group. I felt okay, but in the sprint I blew up. I think to come back was hard and took something out of me."

Photo: Sirotti




25.08.2015 @ 20:14 Posted by Andy Pedersen

After two relatively short road stages, the Vuelta a España scheduled a lengthy 209.6-kilometer stage Tuesday, perfect enticement for a Classics rider like Markel Irizar, who wasted no time in joining the day’s breakaway.


Right from the wave of the flag signifying the race start, Irizar jumped into a move with five other riders and quickly gained time; at one point the gap had stretched to a hefty 13 minutes before the chase began in earnest behind.


But the mostly headwind course kept the breakaway in check, and when the road finally turned to give the escapees a more favorable cross-tailwind, the gap had fallen to 30 seconds.


Irizar and Europcar’s Jimmy Engoulvent gave one last effort to hold off the fast charging peloton with 25 kilometers remaining, but with the four-kilometer steep and narrow uphill road to the finish looming on the horizon the jittery peloton, all fighting for the front positions, kept the speed high and 11 kilometers from the end the pair were caught.


After nearly 200 kilometers out front, and a dogged reluctance to throw in the towel with the peloton breaking down his neck, the amiable Basque cyclist earned a trip to the podium: Irizar was awarded the Most Aggressive rider for stage four.


“It was really windy,” exclaimed Irizar. “We knew before we started and we knew it was going to be difficult. We had a tailwind from Cádiz to the finish, but of course to go to Cádiz we had mostly a headwind.  When we had 13 minutes, we started to dream that we could make it. But in Cádiz there was a lot of headwind and we lost almost three minutes there, and at the end it was impossible.”


It continued full gas for the final kilometers as the swarming peloton rushed toward the sharp left-hand turn that marked the beginning of the last four tricky uphill kilometers, a finish perfect for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who claimed the win.


For the rest of the GC contenders, the fight was to minimize gaps in the steep, narrow ending, and Fränk Schleck - with big help from the team - managed to find good position into the uphill and finish in 26th place (+11”).


“The boys did a really great job today,” said Schleck. “I am feeling very comfortable riding behind Popo (Popovych) – he’s a great leader and he is very smooth riding through the peloton.  And the having the two van Poppels and Stuyven there, they gave me a great lead out and kept me out of the wind.


“Riccardo [Zoidl] is really improving a lot and did a good ride today, too.  It was a long hot day and having Markel in the breakaway made it easier on us.  I still lost some positions in the end and had to fight back to get to the front group. I felt okay, but in the sprint I blew up. I think to come back was hard and took something out of me. I hope to improve more in the next days. It was not easy today, it was long and with the heat and all the stress in the final climb, and losing Fabian yesterday was a pity, but we are not big, big favorites and it’s not up to us to take charge and that puts us in a good position. There are no big gaps yet; in these next two weeks there will be some major changes in GC and a big, big difference in the end. I am looking forward to it.”


Meanwhile, Irizar – his race over – needed only to get to the finish. He crawled his way over the final kilometers, tired, but satisfied with giving his all and fighting to the very end, and, more importantly, helping bring team morale back up and show they will battle on after the devastating news in stage three when illness forced captain Fabian Cancellara to stop.


“The final four kilometers were hard, I tried to take it as easy as possible,” said Irizar. “All the energy I had I spent in the breakaway, so I just finished the stage and that was all.”


“When our captain leaves it is not easy, “ added Irizar about the loss of Fabian Cancellara Monday. “For Fabian and for the team it is not the first time, we have had a difficult year with crashes, sickness, but this is the situation and we need to fight again, to do our best; we are here to fight every single time we have an opportunity, if we have one gram of power or energy left in our legs we will try every day.”



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