Jon Izagirre singel-handedly ensured Euskaltel's Giro d'Italia (and the entire season for that matter) can be classified as a success after soloing to a quite sensational win on stage 16.
The 23-year-old formed part of the the stage from Limone sul Garda to Pzalfen's decisive ten-man break, and with consummate ease distanced his rivals on the three-kilometre rise to the line. The GT debutant maintained and even augmented his gap on the flatter parts towards the finish line (yes, that is quite amazing for an Euskaltel rider), and even had time to savour his win as he crossed the line 16 seconds ahead of his nearest challengers. Zorionak, Jon!
The trio that formed behind Izagirre, consisting of Movistar's classy José Herrada, Androni's De Marchi and BMC's seemingly exhausted Frank, never really cooperated, leaving Izagirre with plenty of time to take it all in, put his hands to his face in disbelief and grabbing a win that will now, surely, make him known to the wider public.
In the slow-moving peloton behind, Mikel Nieve, JJ Oroz and Amets Txurruka all stayed with the first group and thus secured Euskaltel a noteworthy, yet wholly meaningless, triumph in the team rankings.
The win was naturally Euskaltel's first of this year's Giro, and Jon was adamant is was a fully deserved one upon crossing the line.
"I'm in a cloud, I'm so excited", he's quoted as saying according to the team's own website. "I crossed the line and broke into tears. I'm happy for the team; we've been working hard in this race, and everyone nine of us deserves this victory. Also there's my family, my bride, the people who've always supported me... A lot of things are going through my head, and this is the reward for all the hard work and sacrifices I've made. Winning in a Grand Tour is something special. The victory in Asturias (his first as a pro) really excited me, but to win in the Giro d'Italia is amazing".
Today's stage, with its short but steep ascent and the possibility of a sprint finish from a small group of riders at the end, was ideally suited to the youngest of the Izagirre's characteristics, and I was personally sure he would win it once he made it into the break. But despite possessing a decent finishing kick, the 23-year-old explained he was not confident in his sprinting and felt attacking on the climb was pivotal if he was to stand a change of triumphing.
"I had the feeling some of the riders in the break would be quicker than me, therefore I decided to give it a go three clicks from the line, at that was the steepest part. I managed to open up a little gap, and through a lot of suffering we took an important win."
Looking towards the remaining five stages, the versatile Basque said the focus would now turn towards Mikel Nieve's general classification bid.
"We prepared well for this race, and this result motivates us even more to complete a good Giro. We've got a great leader in Mikel - he's feeling good and will probably climb even higher in the GC. We'll do our utmost to help him out. We've already reached our goal of a stage win, and now we'll keep on working".
Stage 16 results:
- 1, Jon Izagirre, 4:02:00
- 24, Juan José Oroz, 8:57
- 28, Amets Txurruka, s.t.
- 30, Mikel Nieve, s.t.
- 84, Iván Velasco, 11:39
- 102, Pierre Cazaux, 12:08
- 110, Miguel Minguez, s.t.
- 125, Adrián Sáez, s.t.
- 169, Víctor Cabedo, 13:43
It's a fact: Jon Izagirre is now Euskaltel's youngest ever winner of a stage in a Grand Tour at 23 years, three months and 18 days - beating Igor Antón (who triumphed atop Calar Alto in the 2006 Vuelta) by some three months.