While rolleurs are suffering the cold and cobbles of the One-Day Classics in northern France and Belgium, climbers get to compete in the Tour of the Basque Country in southern France and Northern Spain.
The Basque Tour is a six-stage race with five stages of hill-climbing and a final time trial. The first stage featured seven climbs to weed out the sprinters, but the final flattish ten kilometers set up a bunch sprint among the strongest climbers.
Garmin-Barracuda had the longest lead-out train for Fabian Wegmann, but Liguigas, with Daniele Ratto, came up to challenge in the final 500 meters. In the last 100 meters Wout Pouls of Vacansoleil snuck past on the right of Wegmann, but the race went to Movistar’s Jose Joaquin Rojas who launched a perfectly timed burst along the right barrier in the last 50 meters to beat the others at the line by half a length
“When we entered the final straight I saw a small gap on the right side I could barely pass through. I thought: ‘I’ll either get past or crash’. I didn’t care about crashing, because we take so many risks on the road that danger comes from everywhere, but everything turned out well.,” Rojas told velonation.com.
“I wasn’t expecting to race here because I had suffered a serious crash last week at Gent-Wevelgem,” Rojas said. “I still have much pain in my back and was really doubtful about taking the start or not. Eventually we decided to come here, especially as a preparation before next week to help Alejandro [Valverde] in the Ardennes, and look what happened. When you don’t expect it, you win.”
The race opened with an attack by Davide Mucelli (Utensilnord Named) and David De La Fuente (Caja Rural) which stayed away the base of the final climb, 15.7 km from the finish. A crash on the climb right behind the leaders shook things up, but the field together until two riders, Daniel Navarro (Saxo Bank) and Oliver Zaugg (RadioShack-Nissan) took a shot 5.5 km out. This pair lasted for just over a kilometer before they were caught, setting up the jostle for control for the final sprint.
Stage Two, 165.7km from Güeñes to Vitoria-Gasteiz, is again full of hills: five Cat 3s and a Cat 2 climb will challenge the riders. The finish is a short flat following a long downhill; expect another sprint finish.
Stages Three and Four feature hilltop finishes; Stage Five should be another bunch sprint (or a breakaway) and the time trial holds three healthy hills; two right at the beginning and the last two km from the finish.