Just like his team-mates said he would, Imanol Estévez romped to his first win of the year in Llodio on Saturday.
The native of Álava was the revelation of the 2012 sub-23 season, taking the overall Torneo Lehendakari series in his first year in the category. This year, though, the wins haven't come along that easily. In fact, despite numerous promising showings and an innumerable collection of top 10 placings, he was yet to race his arms in celebration until today.
In Aretxabaleta on Friday, he involuntarily unclipped just as he launched his sprint and naturally dropped out of contention. Despite another near miss, his team-mates sounded more than optimistic on Estévez's behalf when talking casually to Basque Cycling News post-race. "Sooner rather than later, he'll be back on the top step of the podium", was the message.
And back on top he was - and in some fashion.
The Torneo Euskaldun race was decided in a three-up sprint between three of the strongest domestic young riders. Estévez pipped Beñat Txoperena, who's all set for the Tour de l'Avenir later this month, and Seguros Bilbao's powerful Marcos Júrado. Young Argentinian Ariel Alejandro Sivori came through for fourth at 22 seconds, while Estévez's team-mate Óscar González del Campo grabbed a strong fifth.
Ibai Salas, also him picked for l'Avenir, ended up seventh, while runner-up in Aretxabaleta, Júlen Mitxelena, closed out the top ten.
Coming off Loïc Chetout's mid-week triumph in Lemoiz, Saturday's win was Naturgas' second in four days.
- Imanol Estévez (Naturgas Energía), 3:02:05
- Beñat Txoperena (Gipuzkoa-Eki Sport), s.t.
- Marcos Júrado (Seguros Bilbao), s.t.
- Ariel Sivori (Argentina national team), 0:22
- Óscar González (Naturgas Energía), s.t.