In-form Australian rider Simon Gerrans won the first stage of the Tour of the Basque Country after a 156.5km ride around Elgoibar on Monday.
The 32-year-old edged out Peter Velits and Angel Vicioso on the line for his second stage win in Spain in just over a week after also emerging victorious in the penultimate stage of the Tour of Catalonia.
Pre-race favorite and two-time winner of the event Alberto Contador finished back in seventh, but registered the same time as the leaders. However, a crash just 5km from the end of the stage cost another contender Samuel Sanchez five seconds as he finished down in 18th.
Until that point the day had been largely controlled by the peloton. Amets Txurruka and Laurent Didier set the early pace as they broke away after 30km to establish a healthy five minute lead just before the 50km mark.
That was as big a gap as the peloton allowed, though, as led by Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team the front two began to be reeled in. Txurruka made a solo break 36km from the finish, but was eventually caught 18km out by the chasing pack.
At that point the Sky and Movistar teams carried the workload in the peloton, but the leading pack was reduced to about 17 riders after a crash at the top of the final climb up the Alto de Aiastia. The chasing pack was never able to make up the gap the crash created and Gerrans timed his run to the line to claim the stage win.
Tom Boonen will be unable to defend his Paris-Roubaix crown as he has yet to recover fully from a bad fall during the Tour of Flanders, his Omega Pharma team confirmed late on Sunday.
“It’s tough to have to pull out of a big race like this, but I just cannot cycle,” the 32-year-old Belgian champion said.