Pello Bilbao gave Spain its first stage win at the Tour de France since 2018
By Julien Pretot | Lead photo by Benoit Tessier/Reuters
Issoire, France (Reuters) – Pello Bilbao claimed a tear-jerking victory as he prevailed in the 10th stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday, less than a month after his Bahrain-Victorious teammate Gino Mader died following a crash in Switzerland.
Bilbao outsprinted breakaway companions Georg Zimmermann of Germany and Australian Ben O’Connor, who were second and third respectively.
Defending champion Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark retained the overall leader’s jersey as Bilbao moved up to fifth overall from 11th, giving Spain their first stage win on the Tour since Omar Fraile in 2018.
The 33-year-old Basque rider, who will retire at the end of the season, is donating one euro ($1.10) to an association helping replant on deforested land for every rider finishing a Tour stage behind him.
“I had to win for Gino. I wanted to wait for the biggest moment to win for him. When I crossed the line it was an incredible explosion of feelings,” said Pello Bilbao
It follows an initiative by Mader, who died after crashing in a descent at the Tour de Suisse on June 16.
“It’s an incredible feeling. The longer you wait for such a moment the sweeter it is when it happens,” said Bilbao.
“I had to win for Gino. I wanted to wait for the biggest moment to win for him. When I crossed the line it was an incredible explosion of feelings.”
“It’s such a special Tour for me with the race having started from home (in Bilbao),” the Guernica-born rider said. “Usually I’m quite cold-blooded but today I was very distracted, there was so much at stake.”
Teams had packed up to 180 water bottles as temperatures reached 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) in Issoire.
The riders got off to an explosive start with Tadej Pogacar, closely followed by Vingegaard, on the attack as he kept his rival on his toes while the peloton blew up.
Pogacar’s UAE Emirates teammate Adam Yates and his twin brother Simon, fifth and sixth overall respectively, were dropped as well as fellow Top 10 riders David Gaudu and Romain Bardet of France.
They hovered two minutes behind the main bunch but as Gaudu’s Groupama-FDJ pulled and the peloton’s pace eased up, they caught up before the Col de la Croix Saint Robert (six kilometers at 6.3 percent).
A seven-man breakaway, featuring Bilbao, eventually took shape and they were joined by a group of seven, including former world champion Julian Alaphilippe, 81 kilometers into the stage.
In the Cote de Saint Victor la Riviere, Esteban Chaves went solo but was quickly reined in with the peloton controlling the gap.
“It’s such a special Tour for me with the race having started from home (in Bilbao),” the Guernica-born rider said. “Usually I’m quite cold-blooded but today I was very distracted, there was so much at stake”
In the Cote de la Chapelle Marcousse (6.5 kilomters at 5.6 percent), Krists Neilands attacked as the breakaway group was split into three and the Latvian rider had a 20-second advantage 13 kilometers from the finish.
Neilands was, however, caught with 3.2 kilometers left and Bilbao was the smartest of a group of six and won the final sprint.
Overall, Vingegaard leads Slovenian Tadej Pogacar by 17 seconds and third placer Jai Hindley of Australia by 2:40 with Bilbao now 4:34 off the pace.
($1 = 0.9099 euros)
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris, Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis)