Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco #2: Serge Pauwels battles it out with leaders

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Mikel Landa (Team Sky) won the 2nd stage of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, edging ahead of Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) as the race finished up the category 2 Amurrio-Baranbio climb. Sergio Henao (Team Sky) completed the stage podium for 3rd place.

It was a cold and wet day for the better part of today’s 174km stage. It was a rolling course that greeted the riders from the start in Markina-Xemein but the final 2.8km of the stage was where the most severe gradients of the day awaited the riders. 4 riders went clear after 30km, but soon after it was just Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling) and Angel Madrazo (Caja-Rural) that remained in the lead.

As the duo rode ahead to a 5-minute advantage, Katusha, Tinkoff and Orica-Greenedge all took an interest in controlling the pace. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka kept its cards close to its chest today as the rain came down. Everyone knew the showdown for the day would happen on the final climb and so it was about delivering Serge Pauwels and Igor Anton to the final climb for our African Team.

With 10km to go the break was caught and it was a flat out race for the foot of the climb. Johann van Zyl did a great job to support Anton in the closing kilometers while Pauwels craftily maintained a good position too. With ramps of over 20%, the race exploded as soon as the climb began. After a few accelerations it was Landa and Kelderman who got a 10 second gap. Pauwels came to the front of the chase from 2km to go but the severity of the climb meant that a handful of seconds was enough for the leading two.

Pauwels would be our highest placed finisher of the day. Our Belgian came home in 23rd position and 31 seconds down on the stage winner Landa, who also took over the overall race lead.

Serge Pauwels – Rider
The finish was up a very steep goat path. Position at the bottom was crucial and the guys helped me out there and then I gave it my best shot. I am not explosive enough to do a super result on a steep climb like this but I was happy to be up there in the select group of riders for a long time. 

Alex Sans Vega – Sport Director
It was a hard stage, raining from the beginning and a lot of attacks from the start. We tried to be there with Mekseb Debesay and Daniel Teklehaimanot. After 30km, 4 guys got away, one was Louis Meintjes and he was too high on the GC so Astana chased quite hard. Eventually he dropped back and then the gap went out. Daniel, Johann and Mekseb worked to deliver the guys to the last climb. We thought we could make an attack but it was a very steep climb and the pace was really fast so it was not possible to make a move. Serge didn’t lose much time and if you consider the quality of the field it wasn’t a bad result but we must be part of the action tomorrow. 

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