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Tour of the Basque Country stage 6: Klöden leads RadioShack 1-2

Stage 6: Zalla, 24km individual time trial

HTC-Highroad‘s Tony Martin won the sixth and final stage of  the Tour of the Basque Country (Vuelta al Pais Vasco), a 24km individual time trial starting and finishing in Zalla. Andreas Klöden finished second, just nine seconds adrift, which was enough to secure him overall victory as long-time race leader Joaquim Rodríguez could only finish 33rd, a result which saw him slide out of the final top ten. Klöden’s teammate Chris Horner, the 2010 winner, moved up from fourth to second overall to give RadioShack a one-two finish.

Martin dominated his rivals in the time trial (image courtesy of highroadsports.com)

The time trial course, in keeping with the rest of the race, traced a lumpy, undulating route. This included a 4km, 230-metre ascent to the summit of the Bexi, which the peloton had tackled on the run-in to the finish the previous day, at the midway point of the stage. The presence of such a challenging climb added an extra degree of difficulty for the riders in terms of pacing their effort against the clock.

With the competitors setting off in reverse order it was Martin, who is widely regarded as second only to world champion Fabian Cancellara in the time trial discipline, who established the early benchmark of 32:16 for the top contenders to aim at. How good this time was rapidly became apparent, with Garmin-Cervélo‘s Andrew Talansky the only man outside the top 50 able to get within a minute of Martin. Indeed, only three men would record times within 30 seconds of the German powerhouse, who had already registered big time trial victories at the Tour of Algarve (beating Alberto Contador) and Paris-Nice (where he won the overall).

One by one the top ten tried and failed to get anywhere near Martin’s time, with only Klöden threatening his compatriot. In fact he was seven seconds faster at the intermediate checkpoint at the top of Bexi, but he had burnt too much energy too soon and ended up nine seconds behind – still fully 15 ahead of third-placed Pinotti.

Klöden won his second Pais Vasco 11 years after his first

The top three had all started the day on the same time, but Samuel Sánchez ended up only 13th-fastest, which would see him slip down to sixth overall. But an even worse fate befell the yellow jersey of Rodríguez, the last man to start. Never a great time-trialist, he had already conceded 1:21 to Martin at the halfway split, and it seemed that every pedal stroke saw him tumbling further down the order. He eventually finished 2:08 down – good enough only for 33rd-fastest – which saw him drop from first to 11th in the space of barely half an hour.

In the final analysis, Klöden claimed overall victory over teammate Horner by 47 seconds, with Rabobank‘s Robert Gesink moving up to third after a solid seventh place in the time trial. Movistar finished an impressive race by rounding out the top five with Beñat Intxausti and Xavier Tondó, with David López seventh and Vasil Kiryienka tenth.

After the stage, Martin said he had achieved his goal for the week on a difficult time trial course:

The goal of the week here was to win today, and that’s what I’ve achieved. I had a bit of a break after Paris-Nice and when I started this race I knew that I wasn’t going to be at 100% straight away. But I’ve ended the race in great condition, and this win is the confirmation.

It was a very easy course to miscalculate your strength because it was so technical and there was a lot of climbing. The key was making sure you didn’t go too hard in the first part and I had enough strength to finish at 100%.

Race winner Klöden was delighted with both his time trial effort and the week as a whole:

The time trial went so well. I started very fast and the climb went very well for me. I could keep my good pace till the end. Perfect.

It was a very hard week. There were a lot of climbs and so many attacks. It’s unbelievable really that I’ve won here again after 11 years. But it shows what can happen.

Overall, the Tour of the Basque Country was an excellent event featuring lots of tight and unpredictable racing with exciting finishes. Its six stages were won by six different riders from six different teams, and any one of the top ten going into this final stage could easily have won the overall. In a sense, it is a shame the time trial had such a disproportionate event on the overall result, but that is a relatively minor quibble.

RadioShack will be delighted with their week’s work after finishing one-two with Klöden and Horner, but Movistar were the outstanding team in the race, featuring prominently every day and placing four men inside the top ten. HTC-Highroad will also be pleased to have won both the final stage and the mountains classification (Michael Albasini).

And many of the big names who are likely to feature at the Giro d’Italia next month will also be satisfied with their developing form. Despite dropping out of the top ten overall, Rodríguez climbed well – if slightly below the level he showed at last autumn’s Vuelta a España – and earned a confidence-building stage win. However, his weakness at time trials continues to compromise his Grand Tour prospects, even with the current reduced emphasis on the discipline. Sánchez looked racy throughout, and Andy and Fränk Schleck had a couple of opportunities to test their legs, with both finishing comfortably inside the top 20.

But Klöden will be happiest of all, adding a second Basque country win to the one he won in 2000 as a 24-year old. His victory – and the second place of the 39-year old Horner – struck a victory for the old guard in a younger man’s game.

Stage 6 result:

1. Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) 32:16

2. Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) +0:09

3. Marco Pinotti (HTC-Highroad) +0:24

4. Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) +0:29

5. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Cervélo) +0:42

9. Chris Horner (RadioShack) +0:55

13. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +1:17

33. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +2:08

General classification:

1. Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) 22:12:11

2. Chris Horner (RadioShack) +0:47

3. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +0:47

4. Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) +1:03

5. Xavier Tondó (Movistar) +1:03

6. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +1:08

7. David López (Movistar) +1:28

8. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) +1:31

9. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo) +1:49

10. Vasil Kiryienka (Movistar) +1:54

11. Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) +1:59

Link: Steephill.tv

Tour of the Basque Country posts

Stage 1: Rodríguez climbs into top spot

Stage 2: Kiryienka goes it alone

Stage 3: Vinokourov wins with trademark attack

Stage 4: Sánchez doubles up, Rodríguez defends lead

Stage 5: Hands off! Freire disqualified

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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