Mikel Nieve showed a somewhat surprisingly advanced state of form at his very first race of the year, taking third on the last stage as Euskaltel went for broke.
The team's sub-par performance over the first three stages left them adrift of the top ten on general classification, and Álvaro González de Galdeano's charges set about correcting that on Sunday's 192km concluding leg.
Best young rider Ion Izagirre put the team of leader Maxime Monfort, RadioShack, under pressure by infiltrating the day's big break, leaving his team-mates free to concentrate of taking care of Nieve. Izagirre showed all the aggressiveness and tenacity he's become known for over the last 12 months, attacking out of the lead group in the closing stages to increase his chances of staying away. It wasn't to be, though, as the peloton reeled in the recently-turned 24-year-old and his fellow escapees 10 clicks or so from the line.
The team wasn't done, though, and Nieve soon went to the fore with a strong ride on the last climb to clinch third on the line, and consequently grab the team's first podium of the year. He had no response to winner Roelandts or Androni's Francesco Reda, but had enough in the tank to hold off the likes of Mollema, yesterday's victor Peraud and eventual overall winner Lövkvist.
"I'm pleased with the race", was Nieve's reaction post-stage. "I didn't feel good the first two days and hoped to do better on Mont Faron, but after today's race I go home happy - I've gotten better day by day. This third place boosts my morale ahead of my next race, the Vuelta a Andalucía. There, I hope to be even stronger".
DS Galdeano was similarly pleased, praising "safe bet" Nieve.
"It's his first race of the year, and already he's contesting races", he said. "We've done very well the last pair of days, and we're starting to see the hard work we did in the off-season turn into results".
Romain Sicard, Juan José Lobato, Pablo Urtasun and Garikoitz Bravo all posted DNFs.
Results (full results here):
- (1, Jürgen Roelands (Lotto-Belisol), 4:54:49)
- 3, Mikel Nieve, 0:13
- 43, Jorge Azanza, 5:42
- 50, Rubén Pérez, 5:48
- 65, Ion Izagirre, 5:58
Final general classification:
- (1, Thomas Lövkvist (IAM), 12:27:24)
- 26, Mikel Nieve, 4:12
- 33, Ion Izagirre, 7:26
- 52, Jorge Azanza, 11:00
- 54, Rubén Pérez, 11:56
Photo: Euskaltel Euskadi