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Vuelta Pais Vasco Stage 1: Matthews Sprints to Basque Success

On the first stage of the race, Orica-GreenEDGE sprinter Michael Matthews made it over the tough climbs to easily sprint to victory.


The day started outside the Guggenheim museum in Bibao with the standard Spanish breakaway of a Cofidis rider (in this case Anthony Turgis), a Caja Rural rider (Omar Fraile) and another rider, maybe from one of the weaker WT teams. This was Yellow Lotto's Brian Bulgac. They got to work quickly, and eked out a good gap of five minutes, but the teams weren't making their Catalunya mistakes, and kept then to that, whittling that gap all the way down to just 3 and a half minutes by the first climb, won by Turgis.

Meanwhile, back in the peloton, Movistar were somewhat unsurprisingly on the front, working for their leader Quintana. The majority of the chasing at this point was undertaken by José Herrada and Euskaltel recruit Gorka Izagirre.

By the time we had gotten to the second climb of the day, Fraile got tired of Bulgac looking like an oversized bee, and put the pressure on. Bulgac was almost immediately dropped on the 9% slopes, leaving two, both wildcards. He continued to pull along for the category two climb, in search of the mountains jersey, as the peloton stepped just a little more on the gas pedal, as Astana, Cannondale and Katusha came to help.

At the top of the climb, showing immense tactical nous with 46 km to go, Omar Fraile attacked Turgis for the KOM points, but cracked the Cofidis rider, who wouldn't crest the climb for another 45 seconds, leaving himself alone with his dreams of the red, polka-dotted jersey. The Movistar, Cannondale and Quickstep-led peloton arrived exactly three minutes behind Fraile.

By 36 km to go, the peloton really started to speed up, as Movistar got their train assembled, and strung out in the the lead up to the crucial final climb of the Alto del Vivero.

As the last 20 kilometres loomed large, the teams got into colour order as Fraile lost a minute in five kilometres to the might of Lampre, riding for Costa, and Cannondale, working for Tom-Jelte Slagter. At the start of the Alto del Vivero, the pace was very high from the teams, as Orica also wanted a slice of the pie.

Fraile was really struggling now, heaving in and out of the saddle, weaving from side to side, waiting for and contemplating his fate.

In the peloton the first selection was made immediately, as anyone without prime legs was immediately shot out the back. The first attack were made by a group of three, Julian Arredondo, Tim Wellens and Alexis Vuillermoz, who immediately attacked his companions, to be brought back by Arredondo. The Colombian went to the front then, and immediately looked around at Vuillermoz and Wellens, waiting for them to co-operate. However, they couldn't as they switched between freewheeling and attacks, and of course they were immediately brought back. However, misfortune struck for Arredondo, as he was not only brought back, but slipped his chain, sending him out the back and the GC battle.

Hostilities were next opened by Rein Taaramae, who made one probing attack, before a full-blooded one, taking Ion Izzagirre with him, but their moment in the sun was brief, as they were brought back by a Sergio Henao attack. Henao's was the most serious attack so far, and he came on to the steepest section with a gap of about ten seconds.

However, unlike last year's first stage, the peloton kept a modicum of control on the attackers, as Movistar kept a presence in the peloton, a presence enough to stop any move going clear as the climb was crested. Oddly, it was Movistar trying to pull a group clear on the descent, with Ion Izagirre bringing Quintana and a few others clear. But then Etixx-Quickstep pulled out their trump card - Tony Martin, and the group was doomed.

Martin, a brilliant descender, got a gap on the descent almost without trying. Again though, the pace was just too high. Next to go was Tim Wellens, who attacked near the bottom of the descent as Kwiatkowski then chased. Still no one could maintain a gap. Adam Yates was also making his presence known at the front.

Tinkoff, invisible so far had a probe, but going in to the last kilometre, it looked as though the almost inevitable sprint was going to take place, as Red Lotto took the reins with Tim Wellens, for Tony Gallopin.

Tony Martin led out the sprint for Kwiatkowski, as Gallopin went long, but there was no stopping Matthews, who launched late, but had plenty of time to celebrate, winning by well over a bike length.

There was a crash in the last kilometres, involving Peter Stetina, Darwin Atapuma and José Herrada.

1 AaAaa Michael Matthews OGE 3:57:07
2 NED Michal Kwiatkowski EQS "
Ilnur Zakarin KAT ''
4 SLW Kévin Réza EUR ''
5 BEL Tony Gallopin LTS ''
6 NED Julien Simon COF ''
7 DU Fabio Felline TFR ''
8 BEL Valerio Agnoli AST ''
Petr Vakoc EQS ''
Daniel Moreno KAT ''