Little-known rider Jon Izagirre escaped under the radar this afternoon as he shot away to claim stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia.
Following a ten-man breakaway, the 23-year-old of Basque team Euskaltel-Euskadi made his move as he negotiated a steep hairpin bend. Pulling out a 14 second lead, he proved to be an unstoppable force.
With four kilometres to go, Izagirre opened a sizeable gap, dancing on his pedals to power up the hillside. Alessandro De Marchi of team Androni Giocattoli accelerated in an attempt to close the distance, only to fade fast – the average 9 per cent incline stopped him in his path.
As the bright orange jersey of Euskaltel-Euskadi drove on, a group of three riders formed the chase. They exchanged short leads, which soon became erratic and ineffectual - swerving left then right, their efforts served only to draw circles around one another.
As he realised his first Grand Tour stage win, Izagirre lifted his loose arms with an air of disbelief. Cupping his face in his hands, he rode in not with a powerful celebration but with an overwhelming sense of astonishment.
De Marchi, who gave up the chase in the final kilometres, settled for second and was visibly disgruntled as he cursed and slammed a fist on his handlebars at the finish line.
Following a series of recent breakaway attempts, stage 12 winner Lars Bak once again rode in the lead group for much of the race to affirm himself as one of the most gutsy men on the Giro. The Lotto-Belisol rider has generated interest from both Team Sky and Saxo Bank in recent days.
“The young riders in the field can really learn something from a guy like Lars Bak,” said Saxo Bank manager Bjarne Riis. “He continues to push himself – and if you have the will, the results will come sooner or later. That's how you should ride a race.”
Carsten Jeppesen, Team Sky's director of Operations, has expressed similar admiration for the Dane, saying that he was “a little put out” for failing to recruit Bak to the British team this year.
Overall leader Joaquim Rodriguez looked comfortable at the front of the main group today and will go into the final five stages with just half a minute over Ryder Hesjedal and 1minute 22seconds over Grand Tour great Ivan Basso. The race is likely to be decided in the steep climbs of the Dolomites.