McNulty steals Roglic's lead at Basque Country with late attack

Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) and Ion Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech) were the big winners on Stage 4 of the Tour of the Basque Country, with McNulty taking the race lead and Izagirre claiming stage honours after a late attack went clear on the descent from the final climb.

60th Itzulia-Vuelta Ciclista Pais Vasco 2021 - Stage 4

Ion Izagirre of Astana Premier Tech just beats out Pello Bilbao of Bahrain Victorious for the stage win at Tour of the Basque Country. Source: Getty

Esteban Chaves (Team BikeExchange) surged clear on the descent from the Erlaitz climb, bringing McNulty, Izagirre, Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious), Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) with him. 

McNulty was the highest-placed on the general classification in the group, starting the day at 30 seconds in arrears of overnight race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), with Vingegaard the second highest. That meant the chase from the two riders at the top of the general classification standings, Roglič and Tadej Pogačar was muted, leading to the group gaining a sizeable advantage on the run to the line.

Chaves tried a long-range move to pre-empt the sprint, but he was overhauled and it came down to the throw to the line between Izagirre and Bilbao, with the former taking the win. Izagirre is the defending champion of the race but is looking unlikely to claim the overall title again, but claimed a good consolation with the stage victory.

“The wind was coming from the front and we were all thinking about the final kilometres, for the sprint," said Izagirre. "Buchmann was the first to attack but Chaves made the good move to make a gap. I waited for Buchmann and McNulty to launch the sprint and I took their wheel. I waited because of the head wind. It was very very tight but luckily I could win and I’m really happy."

There was some confusion at the finish as Bilbao saluted, but a check of the finish line photo confirmed that it was actually Izagirre who had just held on for the wind.

"I truly thought Pello had won," said Izagirre. "He was coming from behind and he raised his arms so I really thought I had lost. I congratulated him and assumed that I was second.

"When the soigneurs told me that they were checking the photo finish I wanted to be careful and I didn’t want to celebrate.

"It feels really good after the time trial. I came here very motivated and to start by losing 1’10” in the TT on the first day was hard to accept. After Alex’s victory, winning again at Itzulia Basque Country feels really good,” said Izagirre."

McNulty was the other big winner from the day as he took the race lead from Roglič, moving from third overall to first, and now leads the Slovenian star by 23 seconds with the final stage on Saturday up the steep climbs to Arrate likely to finally decide the overall winner of the race.

"For sure we were aiming for the stage win without thinking too much about the leader’s jersey, but I’m obviously happy with the result today," said McNulty. "I feel good and ready to face the last two stages. Tomorrow could be another tricky stage, and Saturday will be an epic day. We’ll do our best to defend the leader's jersey.”

Australian Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), and Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) were the riders to finally get clear after a hard fight to establish the move over the early climbs.

O'Connor and López emerged as the stronger of the quartet on the famous ascent of the Jaizkibel, used regularly in the Clasica San Sebastian, but were never to get much of a gap from the chasing peloton. At the base of the climb with 26km to go, Lopez and O’Connor were quickly reeled back in with a much-reduced peloton of approximately 50 riders still present at the front of the race.

Astana-Premier Tech were the first team to up the pace but it was Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) who put in the first big attack with 24.7km to go. Chaves lead the chase but then tried to bridge across to the Spaniard along with McNulty. Chaves dropped off the pace, leaving McNulty and Landa clear with a slim advantage on the peloton led by Vingegaard for race leader Roglič.

The pair of escapees were caught just before the summit, with just a group of about 15 riders still in contention with 22 kilometres to go.

Chaves led the attacks on the descent, ultimately forming the winning move of six with Landa McNulty, Izagirre, Buchmann, and Vingegaard joining him to make a dangerous group of six.

Valverde tried a number of attacks off the front of the peloton, but the disorganised nature of the chase meant that the gap grew steadily. Izagirre just won the sprint after the late attack of Chaves was pulled back, and the peloton crossed 49 seconds later, led over the line by Paddy Bevin (Israel Start-Up Nation).

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5 min read
Published 9 April 2021 at 9:01am
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS