The final weekend of racing in Italy turned out to be a magnificent one for Euskaltel as Mikel Nieve landed the 10th overall he craved after animating the racing in some manner on the road to Stelvio on Saturday.
Through his third place on the mighty Stelvio, after which he declared himself not totally satisfied, Nieve went into Sunday's concluding ITT lying ninth overall. Despite a rather lacklustre race against the clock (he came in 100th at 3:52 off Pinotti), he was only passed on GC by Henao, meaning he ended the 2012 edition in tenth place. After the losses of time in the prologue and the TTT, that's no less than a massive performance from a rider who's lead-up was severely hampered by injury. Chapeau!
Jon Izagirre turned out to be exactly the revelation of the race I suggested he would, grabbing a sensational solo win in Pfalzen, climbing with the best of the best on the race's two hardest stages, turning himself inside out for leader Nieve and going on to finish 48th on GC. And all this at the tender age of 23 in his very first three-week race - he'll be a sought-after rider after this performance. Perhaps most impressive was his racing in the mountains on Friday and Saturday. Not being a pure climber, doing what he did at the end of a gruelling first GC was far beyond what I think anyone expected. Big future.
Another rider to impress was Amets Txurruka. His climbing seemed to come on in leaps and bounds as the race developed, and he did ever so well to grab 36th on the Stelvio. Oroz finished the race in a decent 51st, while youngsters Minguez, Sáez and Cabedo deserve praise for getting through the three-week ordeal. The former put his name out there with three breaks and took out the dubious honour of finishing dead last on GC, while the latter pair persevered despite struggling a fair bit at times. Cazaux had a couple of days in breaks, not at least on Friday when he had a great day in the saddle on the road to Pampeago.
Amid all these positives though, you have to feel for Iván Velasco. The climber had fought through the pain ever since his crash on day ten and further aggravated his injuries by crashing on Friday. The next day he was surprisingly thrown out of the race along with Guardini, Hunter and Rollin for allegedly hanging on to the team car for too long. Tough luck for a true warrior.
Final general classification:
- (1, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), 91:39:02)
- 10, Mikel Nieve, 8:08
- 42, Amets Txurruka, 1:34:42
- 48, Jon Izagirre, 1:48:54
- 51, Juan José Oroz, 1:59:28
- 123, Pierre Cazaux, 4:11:33
- 129, Víctor Cabedo, 4:19:04
- 156, Adrián Sáez, 5:16:13
- 157, Miguel Minguez, 5:27:06
As a team, Euskaltel ended up seventh after dropping a few places the last few days. More importantly though, the riders animated the racing in a spectacular manner through numerous "two-up"-attacks, either through the combo of Nieve and Txurruka, or through Nieve and Izagirre. The move is quickly becoming Nieve's trademark and sets the team apart from other teams that increasingly seem to retort to boring, catenaccio-style tactics (yes, Liquigas is one of these teams). Though most of the attacks are unlikely to come off, you're unlikely to win if you don't give it a real good go.