Stage 1 of Pais Vasco was a 162 km stage that started and finished in the beautiful city of Bilbao. The stage was made up of three categorized climbs on the Alto de Morga, and twice up the Alto del Vivero from 2 different directions.
Right from the start three riders broke free and formed the day’s breakaway. This group was made up of Brian Bulgac (LottoNL-Jumbo), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Anthony Turgis (Cofidis). The peloton, which was controlled by Nairo Quintana’s Movistar team, gave the break a maximum of seven minutes before they started chasing. By no means was this peloton going to allowing another situation like we saw last week in Catalunya happen again.
On each climb and descent Movistar would inflict a difficult pace to tire the peloton. In doing so the break was always kept on a short leash. On the first time up Alto del Vivero, Movistar increased the pace bringing the break to under two minutes. This signaled a do or die move from the breakaway and Fraile made a solo attack on the steep slopes of the Vivero.
At first Fraile appeared to be making a solid bid for victory by increasing his lead to 3 minutes with under 25km to go. But the large roads and the frantic peloton brought back almost all of these three minutes fighting for positioning going into the last climb. Starting the final ascent, Fraile had only 30 seconds and his day out front was over.
With 15km to go many attacks went on the last climb but none could get far as all the GC favorites marked each other, but none wanted to commit. With 13km from the top, each rider seemed to want to save their bullets for the rest of the week and were content just shutting down each other .
Tony Martin did an incredible effort on the downhill to bring back several attacks as well as keep the pace so high no one could even think of leaving the peloton. In the final Martin led it out in the last kilometer for Kwiatkowski, but it was Michael Matthews who came through in the end with the win.
The coolest part about following a bike race is it allows me to travel places I would never think to go. For instance, why on earth would you ever go to Bilbao, Spain? You wouldn’t, unless you are going to a bike race. As it turns out Bilbao, Spain is super cool and has a lot more to offer then just serving as a host city. There are thousands of other towns just like Bilbao each with their own unique attributes. I urge everyone when traveling look outside the obvious tourist towns and into the places where you can really get a grasp on the local culture.
Hope you all had a wonderful Easter!