Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE) sprinted to victory at the end of a harum scarum descent in to Elgoibar to win the opening stage of the 2013 Tour of the Basque Country.
The Australian was first across the line after 156.5km of almost constant climbing, with the final ascent, the second category Alto de Aiastia, taken at a breakneck pace set by Team Sky and Movistar.
Having crested the Aiastia, the leaders, perhaps sensing a similar split to that witnessed on stage one of the Volta a Catalunya, began a nerve-jangling descent that distanced defending champion, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Eusakdi), who was delayed by a crash.
The 2008 Olympic road race champion closed to within five seconds of the leaders as they crossed the finish line, but the intentions of his GC rivals, including Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Richie Porte (Team Sky), had been made plain by a fearless descent.
Contador pulled onto the wheel of the television motorbike when taking a turn at the front on the nerve-shredding drop in to Elgoibar, determined to make the most of Sanchez’ difficulties.
Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE) remained on the front for much of the descent in a bid to keep the pace sufficiently high to prevent attacks that could spoil the day for Gerrans.
Having remained in contact on the descent, the Australian fulfilled his half of the bargain by leading out the sprint and finishing comfortably ahead of Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), who was second. Ángel Vicioso (Katusha) was third.
Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol), who missed the break on a similar descent at the Volta a Catalunya, crashed heavily today on the approach to the top of the final climb and could be seen riding with blood pouring from his knee and elbow.
There was no easy start to this Vuelta Ciclista Al Pais Vasco, and tomorrow’s 170.2km stage from Elogibar to Vittoria is unlikely to offer respite.
Tour of the Basque Country 2013 – stage one – result
1) Simon Gerrans (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 4.06.33
2) Peter Velits (SLO) Omega Pharma-QuickStep – ST
3) Angel Vicioso (SPA) – Katusha
4) Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) – Astana
5) Jacob Fuglsang (NOR) – Radioshack-Leopard
6) Sergio Henao (COL) – Team Sky
7) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
8) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky
9) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar
10) Pieter Weening (NED) – Orica-GreenEDGE