Astana repeats in #TotA first stage: Bilbao surprises everybody

With a finisseur move, the Spaniard claimed the opening stage of the Euroregional race, dedicated to Scarponi. Sanchez rounds out Astana’s party with second place, but all the favorites are close

Opening the 2018 Tour of the Alps was another Astana-blue flash, and suddenly the memory goes back to Innsbruck, and the final flight of the “Aquila di Filottrano”. This time, though, it was Spaniard Pello Bilbao in celebration, making the best of his finisseur’s kick to take the first stage of the Tour of the Alps. The 28-year-old moved away from the top riders’ group with 3 km to go, after the favorites had come to the fore in the long climb to Serrada. Bilbao could exploit the strenght in number of the Astana team in the finale to time his attack and take his fifth pro win. For the second year in a row, Astana Pro Team won the first stage of the GS Alto Garda race: last year, the success went to the late Michele Scarponi, to whom Bilbao dedicated his first thoughts after the finish.

My fifth pro victory has a special taste, right because of this coincidence, coming one year after the final win by ‘Scarpa’. Michele always has a place in our hearts, he is a source of inspiration and motivation, and to repeat his feat in this Tour of the Alps debut makes it even more significant. This victory is for him, and his family.

Astana will have every reason to celebrate tonight, with Luis Leon Sanchezrounding out a one-two six seconds after his teammate, accompanied by talented Colombian Ivan Sosa in third. The Androni-Sidermec prospect has worn the first Best Youngster’s white jersey. All the top favorites came in a few seconds later: Thibaut Pinot (4th), Chris Froome (5th), Domenico Pozzovivo(6th), George Bennett (7th) have come home at 10 seconds, four less than Fabio Aru (10°) and Miguel Angel Lopez (14°).

Bilbao also wore the first overall leader’s fuchsia jersey, but he is well aware that his overall lead might be short-lived. His hope, though, is that it remains within the Astana team. “We have come to this race looking for a stage victory, and as a perfect tuning for our Giro d’Italia bid, and we have already succeeded in our first goal. Now we can possibly move to another one: Miguel Angel Lopez feels good, he has had a minor mechanical issue at the top of the climb when he tried to accelerate, but clearly a climb like the Alpe di Pampeago is better suited to him than to myself. If he happens to take the jersey away from me, no hard feelings at all!

Previously, the first breakaway of the Tour of the Alps had moved away just a few kilometers out after the race got off, at 11.30, from a beautifully furnished Arco, with Trentino’s President Ugo Rossi giving the official start. Nine riders tried to go the long way after 8 km: Bou Company (Nippo Vini Fantini), Turrin (Wilier Triestina – Selle Italia), Krizek (Team Felbermayr – Simplon Wels),Friedrich (Tirol Cycling Team), Saramontis (Bora – Hansgrohe), Ballerini(Androni Giocattoli), Eenkhoorn (Team Lotto Nl Jumbo), Rybalkin (Gasprom – Rusvelo) and Berhane (Dimension Data), who managed to open no more than a 3.20 gap, as Groupama-FDJ and Team Sky always controlled the pace in the peloton.

Chris Froome constantly looked attentive in the leading positions and had little hesitation in asking his team to set the pace as the peloton hit the early ramps of the Serrada climb, whilst the escapees’ group was splintering and seeing its advantage quickly fade away. Italian Giulio Ciccone (Bardiani-CSF) tried his hand out of the main group, and slightly after that the top favorites started making their moves: the first acceleration was by Pinot, then it was Froome and Aru. At the end of the climb, Ciccone won the KOM with a few seconds over a group with the strongest, right before diving into the descent to Folgaria.

Ciccone was reeled in, Bilbao was sharp in choosing the right timing for his move: “Afer the top, there was a moment of incertainty, and we of Astana team had the strenght in numbers. We had to play our chances smartly: I tried to accelerate, and never looked back until the finish.

Among the most expected riders at the start, South-African Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data) couldn’t hold up with the strongest rivals, giving up 1.04 on the finishing line: a blow to his overall podium ambitions, but the GC is set to be significantly reshaped after the finish of tomorrow’s stage 2, from Lavarone to Alpe di Pampeago – Fiemme (145,5 km).

It will be the much-anticipated high-mountain finish of this Tour of the Alps, on a climb that often set the show for unforgettable Giro d’Italia duels, such as those between Pantani and Tonkov. Tomorrow, the final 7,7 km ascent at 9,8% average gradient will severely test those nurturing pink dreams in a month or so. So far, Froome, Aru, Pinot and Lopez have lived up to the expectations, but tomorrow the bar will be raised further.Cycling fans will have the opportunity to watch Tour of the Alps’ stage 2 live from 14.00 to 15.30 CET, for a exciting 90-minute show provided by the PMG Sport TV production, and distributed in over 100 Countries all over the World.It will be possible to watch the Tour of the Alps live on Eurosport 1 (Europe, Asia, Oceania), RaiSport (Italy), ORF (Austria), TV 2 (Denmark), L’Equipe(France), Eleven (North America), FloBikes (North America, Central America, South America), SkySport (New Zealand) and Econet (Africa), and delayed on Bike Channel (Italy).

The live streaming will also be aired on the Facebook page “PMG Sport” and on websites Pmgsport.it, Repubblica.it, Gazzetta.it, inbici.net, cicloweb.it, pulsemedia.it, oasport.it, LaPresse.it, Corrieredellosport.it, Tg.la7.it, Federciclismo.it, Tuttobiciweb.it, Cyclingpro.net, SpazioCiclismo.it, CiclismoSport.Go.tv, Mondiali.net and DirettaCiclismo.it.