Tour of the Basque Country: Stage 4

All change after stage 4 of the Tour of the Basque Country as Ion Izagirre triumphs after a small group escapes and stays away,  Brandon McNulty now leads overall as Roglic slips to second place overall.

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Tour of the Basque Country: Stage 4

Ion Izagirre triumphs in Hondarribia to secure Astana – Premier Tech’s second win

Astana Team Press release

Ion Izagirre sprinted to a sensational win on stage four of Itzulia Basque Country to deliver the second victory of the week for Astana – Premier Tech, after Alex Aranburu’s success on stage two. UAE’s Brandon McNulty now leads overall as Roglic slips to second place overall.

In a show of strength and tactics from the Basque rider, Izagirre sprinted to the win from a six-rider group after a late attack proved fruitful, and in doing so, secured the first Itzulia Basque Country stage win of his career.

“The wind was coming from the front and we were all thinking about the final kilometres, for the sprint. Buchmann was the first to attack but Chaves made the good move to create a gap. I waited for Buchmann and McNulty to launch the sprint and I took their wheel. I waited because of the head wind. It was very very tight but luckily I could win and I’m really happy. I truly thought Pello had won. He was coming from behind and he raised his arms so I really thought I had lost. I congratulated him and assumed that I was second. When the soigneurs told me that they were checking the photo finish I wanted to be careful and I didn’t wanted to celebrate. It feels really good after the the time trial. I came here very motivated and to start by losing 1’10” in the TT on the first day was hard to accept. After Alex’s victory, winning again at Itzulia Basque Country feels really good,” said Izagirre.

“The team worked really well today with Oscar and Stefan controlling the situation in the group and Omar and Alexey trying to escape. Also Jakob was a great help for me at the end. I won the General Classification in 2019 but without a stage and now I am celebrating a stage win and it is a very special to me. I am just enjoying the moment. We still have two very difficult days ahead and the race is still open and many things can happen.”

The race

A fast and furious start saw a huge battle for the breakaway play out for more than 100 kilometres with Omar Fraile and Alexey Lutsenko launching several attacks on the Deskarga climb before four riders were able to go clear. The peloton kept the group on a short leash on the early slopes of the iconic Jaizkibel climb, where Izagirre’s Astana – Premier Tech teammates helped take control of the chase. A counter move from the reduced peloton and attacks from within the breakaway didn’t stand up against the strength of the General Classification group with the riders being reeled in approaching the final 25 kilometres, setting the stage for more attacks.

Jakob Fuglsang was one of the first riders to try and go clear on the climb but it was an attack of the descent that would prove to be a decisive move. Izagirre used his intuition and home soil advantage to jump on the wheel and form part of the six-rider lead group that went on to gain a one-minute advantage inside the final 10 kilometres. The group pushed on and despite the chase from behind, where Fuglsang and Alex Aranburu were covering moves, Izagirre’s group managed to maintain their advantage in the final kilometres to all but ensure it would be a six-man sprint for the line.

In a nail-biting finish, Izagirre launched his sprint with 300 metres to go and dug deep to edge out fellow Basque rider Pello Bilbao on the finish line in Hondarribia. Unsure of whether he had secured the win, Izagirre waited until he had official confirmation from the photo finish before raising his arms in joy and celebrating the win with his teammates.

With 49 seconds separating Izagirre and the main GC group at the finish line, the 2019 defending champion moved up to ninth overall ahead of the final two stages, 1’15” behind new race leader Brandon McNulty.

Other reactions

Primoz Roglic: A somewhat disappointed Roglic said after the stage “it was a tough day with another difficult climb. There was hard racing and it took a long time before there was a breakaway. We hoped at the end that we could win the stage with Jonas. He rode very well today. If we assess our efforts now, I think we are just on the wrong side of the line today. Here in the Basque Country every day is a classification day. It will be the same in the next two days. There are still chances.

Brandon McNulty: “For sure we were aiming for the stage win without thinking too much about the leader’s jersey, but I’m obviously happy with the result today. I feel good and ready to face the last two stages. Tomorrow could be another tricky stage, while Saturday will be an epic day. We’ll do our best to defend the leaders jersey.”

Emanuel Buchmann: “I felt pretty good today, better than on the previous stages here. And so I tried to counter the attacks that came on the last climb. That went pretty well and I managed to get into the small leading group. I attacked several times there to try to avoid the stage coming down to a sprint, but that didn’t quite work out. Nevertheless, I’m happy with my performance, and I’m now in 7th place overall.”

Esteban Chaves – 6th “I really wanted to do really well today. Today, this type of race, on paper suits me better and Saturday, and I know all the routes. I spent a lot of time with Imanol Iza up here, I feel like it’s home, I know all the roads really well. I tried in the final on the climb and I tried after the climb at the top, and I tried in the final again. Hats off to all the work the boys did today, I wanted to pay it back and it was really close. I did everything I could and more, I almost died! But this is what it is, this is cycling and it’s a beautiful thing and we need to be happy. Of course a little bit disappointed, but the important thing is to play the game.”

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