Remco Evenepoel started the last stage of Itzulia Basque Country as the GC leader with a slim margin over the other contenders. Despite producing his best 15 minute power in a race, and catching the leaders before the final climb, Arrate, it was not enough for the isolated Belgian to defend the leader’s jersey. Daniel Martinez, who was dropped on the descent off Krabelin but came back with Evenepoel’s help on the flat, won the GC, while Ion Izagirre, despite crashing on Arrate, recovered to win the final stage.
It was a predictable stage start as INEOS paced hard on all climbs, controlling the race for Daniel Martinez, who was only 2 seconds behind the race leader Remco Evenepoel. The fireworks started on the steep Krabelin (4.1 km, 10.5%) climb when Primož Roglič attacked from the peloton. Martinez, Vlasov and Mas were able to follow the Slovenian immediately, while Evenepoel was already showing signs of weakness as he was distanced on the steep sections. The Belgian did not panic and rode the climb in his rhythm with the leaders in sight.
Roglič pulling the other GC contenders on his wheel did not make sense as behind the group still was his teammate Jonas Vingegaard, who was higher in GC (Vingegaard 6th, +0:29 vs Roglič 8th, +1:05). Later the Dane joined Roglič, who continued to drill hard, putting Evenepoel under pressure on a 15% steep gradient. Remco minimised his losses to the group and caught them once Roglic’ pacing relented.
At the end of Krabelin Enric Mas attacked. The Movistar rider rarely attacks, but this day was an exception and his legs must have been very good as Evenepoel could not respond to acceleration and was again dropped as well as other GC contenders like Vlasov being in difficulty. When Evenepoel reached the top of Krabelin, he was 15-20 seconds behind the group of other GC contenders, with a fast descent approaching.
Movistar had Nelson Oliveira in the breakaway, who waited on the descent to work as a satellite rider for Mas. Everything was going perfectly for Movistar up to this point, with Mas looking in dangerous form before the final Arrate climb.
Bahrain-Victorious daredevil descender Pello Bilbao caught the group despite cresting the climb behind Evenepoel in a third group, some 30 seconds back. He is one of the best descenders in the world as he already showed in Tour of the Alps stage 4 last year, where he caught Simon Yates and Aleksandr Vlasov in a technical descent and won the stage in a sprint. Bilbao was born in the Basque region and knows these roads well, paired with good form as shown in his stage win earlier in the week. When Bilbao drilled the descent at the front of the GC group, Martinez was already put on a small gap whilst Mas, in second wheel, over-braked in a corner behind Bilbao and crashed heavily. His teammate Oliveira also went down and did not finish the stage, with Mas continuing despite being bloodied and bruised, finishing 14th at the end.
Martinez, who is one of the worst descenders in the WorldTour, was dropped further due to the crash and was eventually caught by a bigger chase group with Evenepoel in it. Bilbao, Vlasov, Izagirre and Vingegaard went clear and with a long valley before the Arrate climb, were all interested in working together as they were in the GC from 3rd to 6th position. They later caught the last survivor of the early breakaway, Davide Formolo.
Evenepoel and Martinez were 30 seconds back and worked together. The gap decreased gradually and with 15 km to go, both Evenepoel and Martinez bridged to the front group. Unfortunately for the Belgian, who already had done a lot of work, riders attacked and he was dropped. Evenepoel used his greatest strength and caught everyone on the flat section.
Evenepoel won the intermediate sprint, gaining three bonus seconds, while Martinez took two seconds. Before the final climb, Formolo, who was not a GC threat, attacked the group, with nobody responding. Gino Mader was the only domestique in the GC group and worked at the front for Bilbao until the Arrate climb (4.6 km, 8.5%).
The GC still was open when they reached the base, with Martinez needing just 3 seconds from Evenepoel to win GC, whilst Vlasov and Vingegaard needed to attack early if they wanted to put 20+ seconds into Martinez. Evenepoel paid for his previous efforts, dropping early with Izagirre pacing hard at the front and then attacking. Martinez immediately became the virtual GC leader and switched his focus to closing attacks from Vlasov and Vingegaard.
Formolo was caught mid-way up the climb and it was going to be a bunch sprint for the stage win as the last two kilometres were false-flat. Martinez began to set a steady pace to prevent attacks, whilst Izagirre crashed when colliding with Vingegaard’s back wheel. He miraculaously managed to catch back to the ground and started to sprint first with 200 metres to go on this descent finish, taking the stage ahead of Vlasov.
Martinez won his second World-Tour stage race GC after the Dauphiné 2020. Vlasov, who finished 3rd, lost to the Colombian by 16 seconds. In stage 5 when Vingegaard put Vlasov into the barriers, Vlasov lost 17 seconds Martinez including bonus seconds, which might have cost Russian the GC win.
Evenepoel in the end lost only 21 seconds to Martinez in GC. With stronger domestiques he might have won, and this arguably is Remco’s best GC performance against a stacked field in a very hard World-Tour race.
The stage overall was hard already before the Krabelin, with riders doing 14.00 kj/kg/h for 2 hours and 32 minutes. All the big GC riders produced 6.49-6.56 w/kg for 15 minutes on the steep climb, which is impressive.
Considering the fatigue of the week and the start of the stage, Krabelin might be Evenepoel’s best climbing performance. His best pure w/kg performance so far is surprisingly from 2019 Tour of Turkey, but the stage was not hard before the climb.
Due to big fatigue, no domestiques to pace and cat and mouse tactics, the watts on Arrate was not that impressive as the fastest riders in the GC group did 6.22 w/kg for 13:47.
Michael Woods, who was dropped early and finished almost 3 minutes behind Ion Izagirre, did the climb 21 seconds faster than the GC riders pacing himself. He pushed 6.38 w/kg for 13:26.
Like Martinez, Woods also struggles on the descents, which are just as decisive in this fantastic one week race as the uphills, particularly when Bilbao and Izagirre are in good shape.