Mikel Itturia of Euskadi Basque Country-Murias is the latest breakaway rider to succeed in taking a Vuelta a Espana stage win.  Itturia won ahead of Jonathan Lastra and Lawson Craddock as George Bennett and Jumbo-Visma went about defending the lead of Primož Roglič.

The first road stage after the rest day was 180km from Saint-Palais to Urdax-Dantxarinea.  It was a day for the peloton to take their foot off the gas, and a breakaway gratefully made good their opportunity with a large breakaway attacking the peloton and forming a gap that would eventually balloon to a huge margin.  

In the break of the day were Itturia, Lastra, Craddock, Damien Howson of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Amanual Ghebreigzabhier of Dimension Data, Francois Bidard of AG2R La Mondiale, Cyril Barthe of Euskadi-Murias, Remi Cavagna of Deceuninck-QuickStep, Benjamin Thomas of Groupama-FDJ, Ben O’Connor of Dimension Data, Gorka Izagirre of Astana, Jorge Arcas of Movistar, Matteo Fabbro of Katusha-Alpecin, Alex Aranburu of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and Angel Madrazo of Burgos-BH.

Jumbo-Visma with George Bennett (second right) led the peloton on what was a comparative day off for the peloton, photo Sirotti

Jumbo-Visma took responsibility for the chase but allowed the break’s lead to grow to in excess of 10 minutes with 60km to go, and from here there were a number of attacks that kicked off.  Ben O’Connor attacked on the Col d’Ispéguy but quickly fell back after a counter attack from Gorka Izagirre and Alex Aranburu.  Izagirre and Aranburu were joined with 45km to go by Lawson Craddock and the three riders had a 26 second advantage over the remnants of the breakaway.

In the peloton a few delegates such as Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal were providing support to Jumbo-Visma but still the gap continued to growing to upwards of 13 minutes.  The leaders’ advantage over the rest of the break held at around the 20-25 second mark before the chasers caught up with the leaders on the final climb of the day – the Col de Otxondo – before a new move went off the front.  Craddock and Aranburu were again on the front, this time with Damien Howson and eventually a group of four made it across with Bidard, Izagirre, Fabbro and Ghebreigzabhier joining the move.

With 28km to go Fabbro was forced to stop with a puncture just as Lastra joined the move with their advantage over the peloton now at over 15 minutes.  Steadily the rest of the break made their way back once again but then Mikel Iturria went on the offensive just as the roads became narrow and twisting and turning.  It was a well-timed attack that saw him able to gain clear road between him and the rest of the move and disappear out of sight; quickly gaining a lead fo 15 seconds with 24km to go.

Iturria couldn’t rely on a sprint against the rest of the group so instead he went into time trial mode and gained a handy 46 second lead with 16km to go as behind him the individuals in the break were reluctant to commit themselves too much to a chase and potentially jeopardise an opportunity to take a win themselves.

Patrick Bevin gets ready for stage 11, photo Sirotti

With 10km to go Iturria’s lead dropped to 18 seconds as behind him Cavagna and Lastra went in pursuit of the lone leader.  They were joined by Ghebreigzabhier who then opened up an attack of his own in pursuit of Iturria, but they couldn’t get to him by the summit.  Also closing on Cavagna and Lastra were Howson and Bidard who caught up just at the summit; but Iturria was still 18 seconds clear.  Craddock also added his name to the small chase group that at one point had managed to close to within 10 seconds of the Spaniard; but the Spaniard was digging deep and holding his ground.

With the bulk of the climbing down Iturria threw himself into the descent with an 11 second lead with 7km to go.  The gap neither grew nor shrunk significantly all this time, but his biggest advantage was the lack of cooperation behind him between riders who were playing games with each other and even launching sporadic attacks that then dissipated in pace over and over again.  Damien Howson was most desperate of the break, knowing that he couldn’t win in a sprint either.  Eventually, a move with 1.6km to go brought Iturria to within just 5 seconds of being caught.  

Howson, together with Ghebreigzabhier were tantalisingly close to catching the leader, but Iturria still led with 1km remaining and simply wouldn’t give up.  The downhill run in to the finish saw Iturria at full throttle to hold off the chasing group and eventually he finally realised that he had done enough to take the win.  He finally sat up with 50m to go having done one of the most valiant attacks in recent memory.  Jonathan Lastra just edged Lawson Craddock to take the runner-up spot with Howson fourth ahead of Bidard and Ghebreigzabhier.

Jumbo-Visma eventually led home the peloton 18.35mins behind the break, with no change in the top of the standings overall.


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