Stage 2 was the longest stage in the 2015 Pais Vasco at 175.4km in length. It went from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz, and was dubbed the “sprint stage” even though it had 10,000 ft of climbing. Never trust the profiles.
This flat stage went over five climbs, the Orduña (cat 1), Salinas de Añana (cat 3), San Martín de Zar (cat 3), Zaldiarán (cat 3), Vitoria (cat 3) and one last trip up the Alto de Zaldiarán (cat 3).
The day started off with a five minute protest against the race organizers organized by the CPA(the riders “union”). The riders were protesting the race organizers for once again, looking over the riders safety by leaving a series of metal poles sticking out in the road within the last 500 meters of a high-speed finish. In yesterday’s horrific crash, four riders were seriously injured including Peter Stetina (BMC), who was taken to the hospital with a fractured kneecap and ribs.
Just like stage 1, the break went in the first five kilometers which today was five riders made up of Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Sebastien Reichenbach IAM Cycling), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal), Thierry Hupond (Giant Alpecin), Kevin de Weert (LottoNL-Jumbo). Txurruka was the highest ranked rider on general classifcation(GC) with the same time as the race leader Matthews so it seemed the break was doomed for success from the get go.
Despite a rider high on GC in the break, Orica-GreenEdge showed no interest in defending the race lead and the stage. The break’s lead eventually ballooned out to 10 minutes. Just as it hit ten minutes Movistar hit the front and for the rest of the race showed their strength to the peloton. Starting from the Cat 1 climb they gave a clinic in climbing and descending. For the next 100km the peloton would be in a long line with groups of 50 and 60 being dropped off the back and having the fight back constantly.
With 30km to go Orica-GreenEdge finally hit the front and did the rest of the pacemaking. In the last 25km Reichenbach and Txurruka left the others behind but were eventually caught on the last climb. Many teams tried to set a fast pace to keep the race under control and that prevented any attacks. It was on the downhill that someone was able to break free. Tom Slagter (Cannondale-Garmin) got a gap and went for it with 8km to go. He stayed clear all the way to 2.5km to go where she was swallowed up by the hard charging peloton.
In a stage dominated the last few years by Orica-GreenEdge it looked to be a repeat with Matthews. In the last kilometer Etixx-Quickstep led the peloton, but in the finish it was a surprise with Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing) crossing the line first with Matthews in second. Matthews kept the leaders jersey with his second place finish. It was Felline’s first World Tour victory and came on the heals of a time trial victory in last weeks Criterium International.
Today I road in the team car thanks to Cannondale-Garmin soigneurs Paul and Stefano. I was able to see just how much goes into a day of racing that many people don’t even consider. The soigneurs are like the heart of the operation. They make sure blood gets pumped to all the different parts of the team. They handle everything before the race, during the race and after the race. But I’m saving that blog post for another day, maybe tomorrow. Mostly because I am really tired from all the hard bike racing I’ve been watching.
But on a serious note wishing a speedy recovery to all of the riders involved in yesterday’s senseless crash. It’s just so sad that this is what had to happen for people to wakeup and bring rider safety to the forefront. Whether it be barricading poles in the road, neutralizing stages or not riding in dangerous weather conditions. I think some people forget that these riders are humans and have limits just like everyone else. Hopefully we can learn from this and move in the right direction going forward.