ORICA-GreenEDGE was all in for Simon Gerrans on the first stage of Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco. A crash split the field over the day’s final summit, and thanks to the tireless work by his teammates, Gerrans was well-positioned when the front group took shape. Pieter Weening also made the split and immediately jumped to the head of the bunch to set a blistering pace down the mountain towards the finish. In the final kilometer, Weening perfectly delivered Gerrans to the line.
“The plan of attack was formed around me today,” said Gerrans. “The whole team committed to the stage win. It’s nice to repay the team’s work at the end of the day”.
Sport Director Neil Stephens makes his European residence in the Basque Country and lives less than an hour away from today’s course. When he saw the race route, he suspected today’s stage was one on which Gerrans could win. His suspicions were confirmed after he recon’ed the stage two weeks ago.
“I know these roads, and when I heard about this stage a month ago, I knew it was a day for Simon,” said Stephens. “Ten days ago, I came out and previewed the stage. This morning, Pieter, Simon and I left the hotel a little early and we had a look at the last 30 kilometers. We obviously couldn’t have predicted the crash at the end, but the rest of the race unfolded exactly as we would have expected. If we were going to win today, it was going to be with Simon. We put all our energy into him.”
With the end goal in mind, Stephens directed the team to save their legs during the early action. The field allowed five riders up the road, and when a two man breakaway formed from the original five escapees, teams with GC ambitions controlled the chase.
Eighteen kilometers from the finish in Elgoibar, on the lower slopes of the Alto de San Miguel, it was gruppo compatto. A crash at the summit, with 7.5 kilometers left to race, allowed an elite group of 17 riders to form. Pieter Weening lead the group down the twisty descent of the sixth and final categorized climb.
“After the crash at the summit, Pieter saw that I had made the split and was in good position,” added Gerrans. “He did a fantastic job on the descent and in the final. It was basically thanks to him that I won. He set me up perfectly.”
Having won the first stage, Gerrans leads the Pais Vasco general classification. He’ll start stage two in the yellow jersey.