Gorka Izagirre said delivering Colombian teammate Nairo Quintana to victory in the 100th Giro d’Italia remains the priority as he secured his maiden grand tour victory on a thrilling eighth stage on Saturday.
Izagirre, of the Movistar team, was handed a rare break from keeping Quintana protected and away from the pitfalls of the three-week race.
And the Basque all-rounder seized the day, capping a fast and furious 189km ride from Molfetta to the stunning hilltop town of Peschici with a final spurt that held off Italian Giovanni Visconti by five seconds.
In doing so, Izagirre followed in the footsteps of his more famous younger brother Jon Izagirre, 28, who claimed his maiden grand tour win with stage 16 victory at the 2012 Giro.
But the 29-year-old Izagirre insisted staying fresh over the remaining 13 stages of the race, which finishes in Milan on May 28 after a punishing third week in the high mountains, comes first.
“I won today due to the circumstances, but our goal is still to win the Giro with Nairo Quintana,” Izagirre insisted.
Quintana, the 2014 champion who won last year’s Vuelta a Espana, is among several favourites expected to loosen Bob Jungels’s grip on the pink jersey on Sunday when the peloton race to the second summit finish at Blockhaus.
The Quick Step team leader bounced back from a crash on a downhill section to finish with the chasing peloton at 12secs behind Izagirre.
The Luxemburger is expecting to come under attack, but warned he will be a force to be reckoned with in another important battle for control of the pink jersey — a rolling 39.8km time trial next Tuesday.
“Now, apparently the big battle begins. Tomorrow I expect a hard finale to the Blockhaus. It’ll be time for favourites to show themselves,” said Jungels, who holds a lead of six seconds on Britain’s Geraint Thomas of Team Sky.
As well as Quintana’s Movistar team, Jungels and Quick Step will be wary of Sky and the Bahrain team of defending race champion Vincenzo Nibali.
“It’s a very important climb. We’re going up a side (of the mountain) that not everyone knows, although people will have seen what it’s like thanks to video footage,” said Nibali.
“We’ll see how it goes once we’re on the road, although it also depends on how the riders decide to race it.”
Asked his race strategy, he laughed before replying: “Obviously, I’m not going to tell.”
Jungels, who also held the pink jersey for several days last year, added: “It’ll be a question of hanging on and see how far I can go. I’m not scared of anybody but if somebody has more power than me, I might lose the lead.
“But on Tuesday, there’ll be a pretty long time-trial, and not an easy one, which should suit me pretty well. I’m looking forward to it.” – Agence France-Presse