Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco: Kwiatkowski 2nd After Aggressive Teamwork
Etixx - Quick-Step rider Michal Kwiatkowski stayed composed and relaxed despite a flurry of attacks on the final Category 2 climb of the day, Alto de Vivero (4.3km, 8.6% average gradient), and thanks to strong descending by Tony Martin and UCI World Road Champion Kwiatkowski, the Polish rider was in great position to contest the bunch sprint arrival of 162.7km Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco Stage 1 in Bilbao on Monday. Kwiatkowski finished 2nd behind stage winner Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) was 3rd.
The original breakaway of the day was down to just one rider that was finally caught with 17km to go, and the peloton quickly went into attack mode. But even an attack from Sergio Henao (Team Sky) was caught at the very top of the climb. Tony Martin then took to the front of the peloton, keeping the pace high on the descents and even getting a small gap.
Though the peloton continued to try and prevent the group sprint, the pace was simply too high for any moves to work before the final kilometer. Tony Martin led the group into the sprint.
Petr Vakoc of Etixx - Quick-Step also finished 9th. Etixx - Quick-Step leads the team classification.
The 2nd place of Michal Kwiatkowski is the 21st time Etixx - Quick-Step finished on the 2nd step of the podium in 2015, in addition to 18 victories, which remains the most of any team in the pro peloton. Etixx - Quick-Step is also ranked 2nd in the UCI WorldTour, with 484 points as of last Sunday.
Etixx - Quick-Step looks next to Stage 2, 175.4km from Bilbao to Vitoria-Gasteiz, on Monday. The stage starts easy but heads into Category 1 Alto de Orduna (7.6km at 8.3% average gradient) before the riders negotiate five Category 3 climbs, including the last two in a local circuit. The stage descends into a flat finale.
"I'm happy with today's stage," Kwiatkowski said. "It was a hard final with the 2nd category climb where we didn't reach the summit until 13.5 km before the finish. It was not so easy to control because there were guys trying to escape on that climb, but the team rode perfectly. I had Tony, Carlos Verona, and Petr Vakoc with me in the front group. I also had my other teammates put me into perfect position going into the climb, as it was basically a sprint to get to the front before then. It was really nervous all the way to the line. Everyone wanted to show themselves as they usually do in the opening stage of this kind of race. I am happy with my 2nd place on a day like today. I waited a bit too long before launching, but sprinting is also not my top skill and Matthews is a strong guy for the sprints. He deserved the win. I had good legs in today's stage, and that is the most important thing for me, especially considering I want to fine tune my condition prior to the Ardennes Classics. As for the next stages, we will take it day-by-day."