Rodriguez wins first stage of Basque Tour
Mon, 04 Apr 17:21:00 2011
Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez sprinted to victory in the opening stage of the Tour of the Basque Country.
"I've had an awful start to the year, nothing went right, but when I crossed the finish line it was like I'd seen God," the Katusha rider said afterwards.
Rodriguez was part of a breakaway group of four riders that formed on the final climb of the stage. He then outsprinted 2008 Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez and Germany's Andreas Kloden in a close finish.
"It was so close, that finishing straight went on forever," Rodriguez added. "But finally I managed to get it across the line."
Rodriguez had been the first to reach the summit of the La Antigua climb three kilometres before the finish. The short but steep climb broke up the front pack of 70 riders, with several forced to dismount and walk the final metres.
Rodriguez, fellow Spaniard Sanchez, last year's overall winner Chris Horner of the United States and his RadioShack team-mate Kloden stayed a few seconds clear on the twisting descent to Zumarraga before battling for the victory.
Tour of Basque Country : S
"Going over the top in front was the moment when I realised that I could do something," Rodriguez said. "After such a bad start to the year, with problems and more problems, I really didn't think I could win.
"Not only that, I've got the overall lead, and in a race as big as the Tour of the Basque Country, that's something reserved for the best of the best."
Sanchez, the leader of the local Basque Euskaltel-Euskadi team, could not hide his disappointment at finishing such a close second behind Rodriguez.
"It must have been half a metre at the most," he said. "But the race has only just started and it gets harder every day. I've proved I'm in good shape, the team's shown it's in good shape, and that's what counts."
The race finishes on Sunday in Zalla.Reuters