Pello Bilbao dedicates first Tour de France stage win to late Gino Mader
Pello Bilbao pointed to the sky in memory of his late team-mate Gino Mader as he celebrated his first career Tour de France stage win in Issoire on Tuesday.
Bilbao triumphed from a breakaway, a first Spanish stage win in five years, sparking emotional scenes less than a month after Mader died following a high-speed crash at the Tour de Suisse.
The pair were close friends, with Mader even having adopted a stray dog from the city of Bilbao and naming him Pello. In his podium interview, the Basque rider said the memory of Mader was “the only reason” for his win.
“It was hard to prepare the last two weeks with him in mind, but staying with my family at home helped me a lot, just to keep calm, be positive and put all my positive energy to try to do something nice in the Tour,” he said.
“I wanted to do it in the first Basque stages, that was so special for me but it was not possible so I just waited for my moment.
“I was maybe thinking my position in the overall was going to be a problem but I decided to a make an all-in move and in the end it was the right movement.
“My first victory in the Tour in 13 years as a pro is such a special moment for me.”
It was also an expensive one. Following Mader’s death, Bilbao had pledged to replicate the Swiss rider’s charitable gesture – donating one euro to environmental causes for every rider he finishes ahead of on each stage, also promising to double the donation if he won a stage.
Bilbao had already run up a bill of more than 1,200 euros in the opening week and will not mind having cost himself much more with a victory which also propelled him up the general classification to fifth, four and a half minutes behind Jonas Vingegaard who still leads by 17 seconds from Tadej Pogacar.
The 167km stage from Vulcania through the Massif Central looked custom-designed for a breakaway as racing resumed in sweltering temperatures after Monday’s rest day, but things were never so simple on a day when the attacks raged from the start to the finish.
Vingegaard and Pogacar were both involved in some of the early moves, splitting the main peloton, before 14 riders eventually got away.
But it was only occasionally a cohesive group. Krists Neilands launched an attack at the foot of the final climb and crested it with an advantage of 30 seconds, but that tumbled on the descent towards town and he was caught by a chasing group of five with three kilometres left.
Bilbao felt confident he was the fastest and let Zimmerman move to the front before launching his sprint with a couple of hundred metres left.
“With cold blood I let Zimmerman make his sprint and I went on the wheel, then it was just full gas for the last 200 metres thinking of nothing,” he said. “I crossed the line and I just put out all the energy inside of me and remembered the reason for this victory, a special one – for Gino.”
The main peloton came to the line a little under three minutes later with no change in the top four in the standings, while Bilbao jumped up six places with Adam Yates, Simon Yates and Tom Pidcock now sixth, seventh and eighth overall respectively.
Mark Cavendish is due to have surgery on his broken right collarbone on Wednesday after being forced out of the Tour by a crash on Saturday.
The 38-year-old has previously announced his intention to retire at the end of the season but has been offered a one-year contract extension by Astana-Qazaqstan.
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