Close to home, Iturria takes Vuelta stage for 1st win

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URDAX, Spain (AP) Mikel Iturria couldn’t have asked for a better setting for his first professional cycling win.

Just a few kilometers (miles) from home and with his family watching, Iturria used a solo breakaway to win the 11th stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Wednesday.

“To win it the Vuelta, close to home and with my family here, is a dream come true,” the Spaniard said. “Before the race I was asked which stage I wanted to win, and I said this was the one. I gave all I had. I was going as fast as I could, finding strength that I didn’t know I had, and was able to make it to the end and win the stage.”

Iturria held on for the victory after making an impressive solo run with about 25 kilometers (15 miles) to go of the 180-kilometer (112-mile) ride from Saint-Palais to Urdax in Spain’s Basque Country.

Iturria, a 27-year-old rider from team Euskadi-Murias, finished six seconds ahead of the first group of chasers. He had built a gap of nearly 50 seconds with about 15 kilometers (9 miles) to go.

“I don’t have words for this,” the Basque Country rider said. “We’ll have to toast with champagne tonight.”

Overall leader Primoz Roglic finished safely in the peloton, which crossed the line almost 20 minutes after Iturria. Roglic remained 1 minute, 52 seconds in front of Alejandro Valverde, with Miguel Angel Lopez 19 seconds behind.

“It was a bit of a hard start but then it was a nice day and my team did a great job,” said Roglic, a former ski jumper from Slovenia who rides for team Jumbo-Visma. “We’ve proven this is a big team already. I don’t think tomorrow’s stage is more dangerous than the high mountains. I don’t have any problem with short climbs. We need to be focused on the moment and do our best.”

On Thursday, riders will face three difficult short climbs near the end of a 171-kilometer (106-mile) stage that will finish in Bilbao, still in Basque Country.

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”