Success in professional cycling is often as much luck as it is skill, form and tactical nous. On Wednesday’s third stage of the WorldTour stage race Itzulia Basque Country, Michael Woods suffered bad luck, crashing at a crucial moment of a day that suited him and losing not only any chance of taking the day’s flowers, but also any chance of finishing high in the GC. The stage ended with a big GC scrap on a difficult climb, with Tadej Pogačar beating compatriot and race leader Primoz Roglič.
After a rolling route, the climax of Wednesday’s stage came on two climbs. First, the Cat. 2 Malkuartu peaked 10 km from the finish. It was 2.7 km of 5.9 percent, but the first kilometre was 10.2 percent. Then came the finishing climb to Ermualde. Although it “only” averaged 8.4 percent over its 4 km, there was a 1.5 km section of a knee-crushing 13.5 percent. At the red kite, the road descended, climbed again and then finally dropped to the line.
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) April 7, 2021
Wednesday’s breakaway was a septet that rolled up a 7:00 lead. Oier Lazcano (Spain/Caja Rural) scored maximum KOM points on the Cat. 3 Altube and La Tajera climbs to draw himself level on points with white polka dot jersey holder Max Schachmann.
On the way to Malkuartu there was a brief split in the peloton, with Adam Yates caught out. His Ineos team dragged him back.
Lazcano was determined to grab that KOM jersey by taking points atop the Malkuartu, so he bolted on his breakmates. There would be no more points for Lazcano on Wednesday. Woods’ team lead the peloton onto the slopes. A streamlined field tipped over the top, and Astana-Premier Tech led the bunch on the descent.
With 4.8 km to race and his team on the business end of the peloton, Woods crashed along with Wilco Kelderman on the right hand side of the road.
On the final climb UAE-Emirates led the heavy hitters over to a little group that had scampered away at the foot. Pogačar hit the gas with 2.7 km to go, eliciting a counterattack from Richard Carapaz on the steepest part of the climb.
The Slovenians passed the Ecuadorian with 2.1 km remaining.
Yates pulled Landa and James Knox up to the duo but the compatriots surged again. Pogačar couldn’t rid himself of Roglič.
David Gaudu brought over Yates, Alejandro Valverde and Landa just before the red kite and then tried to fly free. Roglič dashed away and once more only Pogačar could go with him. The younger of the Slovenians was also the fastest on Wednesday.
With bonus seconds over the last two days, Pogačar has pulled Roglič to within 20 seconds with three stages to go.
Thursday throws a 4-km, 10.4-percent Cat. 1 climb at the riders with 27 km remaining.
2021 Itzulia Basque Country Stage 3
1) Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia/UAE-Emirates) 4:04:50
2) Primoz Roglič (Slovenia/Jumbo-Visma) s.t.
3) Alejandro Valverde (Spain/Movistar) +0:05
119) Michael Woods (Canada/Israel Start-up Nation) +9:48
131) Alex Cataford (Canada/Israel Start-up Nation) +11:47
147) James Piccoli (Canada/Israel Start-up Nation) +13:32
2021 Itzulia Basque Country GC
1) Primoz Roglič (Slovenia/Jumbo-Visma) 8:07:48
2) Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia/UAE-Emirates) +0:20
3) Brandon McNulty (USA/UAE-Emirates) +0:40
67) Michael Woods (Canada/Israel Start-up Nation) +11:01
131) Alex Cataford (Canada/Israel Start-up Nation) +21:40
148) James Piccoli (Canada/Israel Start-up Nation) +24:47