Tour of Basque Country, Cat 2.1

Spain, April 7-11, 1997

1996 Results and Reports

Stage 1
Stage 2
Stage 3
Stage 4
Stages 5a, 5b and Final GC

37th edition of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco

Stage  1: Monday     7,  Legazpi - Legazpi             (138 km)
Stage  2: Tuesday    8,  Legazpi - Viana               (209 km)
Stage  3: Wednesday  9,  Viana - Vitoria               (197 km)
Stage  4: Thursday  10,  Vitoria - Sopuerta Garape     (206 km)
Stage 5a: Friday    11,  Sopuerta - Arrasate-Mondragon (97 km)
Stage 5b: (ITT)          Mondragon-Fagor-Salinas       (12.5 km)

Principal Participants:

ONCE: Jalabert (Fra), Zuelle (Sui), Garcia
SAECO: F. Casagrande, Gotti, Petito
TELEKOM: Rijs (Dan), Ullrich, Boelts
MG: Copolillo, Baldato
FESTINA: Virenque, Dufaux (Sui), Herve, Stepens (Aus)
POLTI: Leblanc (Fra), Celestino
LA FRANCAISE DES JEUX: Gianetti (Sui), D. Rebellin (Ita), Heulot
ROSLOTTO: Ugrumov, Fincato (Ita), Konychev,Gontchenkov
GAN: Boardman (Gbr), Sunderland (Aus), Rue, Pensec
RABOBANK: Soerensen (Dan), Luttenberger (Aut), Bruyneel (Bel)
CASINO: Elli, Massi, Saligari (Ita)
BATIK: Berzin (Rus), Frattini
BANESTO: Olano, Jimenez, Blanco, De las Cuevas (Fra)
LOTTO: Madouas (Fra), Tchmil (Rus)
ASICS: Chiappucci, Zaina, Noe
KELME: Escartin, Buenahora (Col)
MERCATONE UNO: Pantani, B. Zberg (Sui), Della Santa
EUSKADI: D. Garcia
TOSCAF: D. Calvero

More Previews

The Vuelta al Pais Vasco will count with the presence of the winner of the Tour of Flanders, Dane Rolf Sorensen. Sorensen has won a number of stages at la Vuelta al Pais Vasco, at which he's also being leader in a couple of editions.

Let's review the teams participating. Among the five Spanish teams participating, ONCE is the team that shows the most strength. Not only do they count with number one and number two in the World Rankings, Alex Zulle and Laurent Jalabert, but also Marcelino Garcia, the winner of the last Criterium International and Aitor Garmendia, who beat Boardman at the time trial on the same race. Add to that Mikel Zarrabeitia, winner of the Gran Premio de Estella and David Etxebarria, winner of the Tour L'Avenir. ganador del Tour del Porvenir. And completing the team: Inigo Cuesta and Javier Mauleon.

Kelme, comes without Juan Carlos Dominguez, instead with Fernando Escartin who wants to tune his form. Together with him two Colombians, Hernan Buenahora and `Chepe' Gonzalez, with their first European race this year. Team Toscaf of Maximino Perez will count on Russian Andrei Zintchenko as their best option, while Euskadi, will depend on Bingen Fernandez. Only left is Banesto with Abraham Nedno, who showed improvement at Estella, punishing himself to hunt down Zarrabeitia, David Etxebarria and Bingen Fernandez. Together with Nedno, Santi Blanco and Jimenez are the most important riders for their team.

In looking at the foreign teams, Festina looks like the team to beat, more than anything because of the form showed at Paris-Nice and Setmana Catalana by riders like Virenque, Dufaux, Neil Stephens, Moreau, Herve and Bouvard.

The stage structure will allow teams like Rabobank (Sorensen), La Francaise des Jeux (Gianetti) or Casino (Alberto Elli) to become dangerous if they want to move. It all depends on how the race develops, not fogeting the number of good teams and riders participating. From past winners of the Vuelta like Claudio Chiappucci from a potent Asics, Marco Pantani (Mercatone) also with a strong team or Telekom with Riis, Ullrich, Bolts and Totschnig. Some of the other teams will be Polti (Leblanc, Guerini, Valoti, Gualdi, Celestino, Chaurreau) Batik (Berzin, Frattini, Cenghialta, Volpi) MG (Coppolillo, Finco, Baldato, Pistore, Scinto) and Roslotto (Ugrumov, Fincato, Cattai, Zen, Gontcehnkov. And we can't forget the team of the last winner, Francesco Casagrande (Saeco).

Stage 1, Legazpi-Legazpi, 138 km:

  1. Gabriele Missaglia (Ita) Mapei             3.15.33
  2. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
  3. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco
  4. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Francaise des Jeux   
  5. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spa) Banesto
  6. Michael Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank
  7. Laurent Dufaux (Sch) Festina
  8. Andrei Zinchenko (Rus) Toscaf
  9. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once
 10. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics
 15. Alex Zulle (Sch)
 25. Marco Pantani (Ita)
 35. Abraham Olano (Spa)
 39. Richard Virenque (Fra)                  all s.t.
 60. Chris Boardman (Gbr)                      + 0.31
 64. Georg Totschnig (Aut)
 89. Piotr Ugrumov (Rus)                     all s.t.
115. Bjarne Riis (Den)                         + 6.37 
146. R. Sorensen  			       +11.54

Stage 1 Report

The Dutch professional Jan Boven fell into a ravine during a descent in the first stage of the Tour of the Basque Country. The Rabobank rider fell four metres and was unconscious for some minutes.

He has three damaged dorsel vertebra in his back and is in a Basque hospital.

In his second year as a professional, and was active in the Tour of Valencia, Catalan Week and the Tour of Murcia, Boven must lie still. On Thursday he will probably be moved to the Netherlands, where is will have to wear a corset.

Also other riders to abdandon: Arrieta and Roux

Once-Festina, uncertain duel - The first stage of this race has done nothing to give a clue of the general classification, but it has helped to clarify the intentions of two teams, Once and Festina, which were protagonist during many kilometers, attacking and giving an exhibition of courage and fighting. But they wouldn't bear fruit from their many moves, which is nothing new in this sport, but they did show their weapons for this race and from what could be seen, they were powerful.

Italian Gabriele Missaglia won at Legazpi, this way getting his first professional win. Missaglia was part of an Italian team, which lasted three months last The average speed was over 42 kms/hr, one of the highest in a road stage this season. The reasons for this, first, because of the attack by Frenchman Christophe Moreau, an excellent rolleur and time trialist, who reached a maximum advantage of 5:55 when there were 100 kms. to go. This attack brought the second reason, the work from ONCE, with the whole team, which took care of the escape, but it took 65 kms. and a lot of strength from the team. But the Once-Festina war wouldn't end with the neutralization of Moreau. They would continue attacking each other until close to the finish line. The only difference is that Festina squeezed Virenque and Dufaux in the escapes of the final kilometers, while ONCE placed Garmendia and Zarrabeitia, without Zulle and Jalabert showing up. Either they were worn out from their beating at Flanders, or maybe they were saving their strength for a moment of more importance. The peloton broke up on many occasions.

In the last 30 kms. they were flying up the Aztiria. Mauleon did a fine job and can be seen coming into form, Zarrabeitia remained in front. Marcelino Garcia attacked and got a few meters, but Festina, placed Pascal Herve on his wheel. On that climb there was a strange fall, in which the worst part went to Ramon Gonzalez Arrieta (Banesto), Didier Rous (Festina) and David Etxebarria (Once). The first fractured his clavicle; the second has multiple injuries and the third, pain in one wrist, without major consequence.

ONCE held on - If riders took advantage of the climb to attack, the descent was also influential. There were riders showing up front such as: Heulot (Gan), Santi Blanco (Banesto), Stephens (Festina), Zarrabeitia (Once). With constant movement at the front of the group, David Garcia (Euskadi), Salmeron (Saeco) and Madouas (Lotto) attacked. Garmendia grabbed the wheel of the Lotto rider, the peloton broke up again. Frenchman Vasseur (Gan) pulled hard, Mauleon still had strength to keep on working. Climbing the Eizaga, a climb which swallowed many riders, Zarrabeitia attacked. Dufaux (Lotus), Blanco (Banesto) and Donatti (Saeco) showed up in front, also Pantani. At three kilometers from the finish line, Zarrabeitia moved and Herve got on his wheel. The final kilometer would become total chaos, in which nobody would be able to control. Heulot attacked, Misaglia responded and finished winning the stage. On this final kilometer, Neil Stephens, Aitor Osa and Pavel Tonkov fell. The worst one off was Stephens who complained of his clavicle.

Chiappucci, Casino and other options - But it wasn't only a fight between Festina and ONCE. There were other riders and teams which showed good form, which should animate the coming stages. That is the case of Claudio Chiappucci and also of Team Casino, which even though they can't count with Pascal Richard they have a strong team. Gan and Saeco also moved, the second launched Donatti first and then Casagrande. Another rider who's improving is Olano, he was capable of staying in the group with the best, even with the high speed of the stage.

Italy's Gabriele Missaglia posted his first professional career win by taking the 138-kilometer Legazpia-Legazpia opening stage of the 37th Vuelta al Pais Vasco on Monday. The unknown Italian, who turned professional in 1995, covered the distance in three hours, 15 minutes and 33 seconds. Finishing second and third, respectively, were Frenchman Stephane Heulot and defending champion Francesco Casagrande of Italy.

The stage was marked by cyclists hitting the dirt in the early kilometers, with Dutch Jan Boven and Frenchman Didier Rous among the casualties. A Vuelta doctor said Boven would have to remain hospitalized for at least two days due to injuries to the spine, and may be flown to the Netherlands if he recovers satisfactorily. Australian Neil Stephens and Pavel Tonkov of Russia also crashed but still managed to finish the stage.

The race began on a frenetic pace which divided the peloton into separate groups. Frenchman Christophe Moreau led a breakaway and had a more than five-minute lead but the pack caught up with him at the 50-km mark. Spain's Ramon Gonzalez Arrieta was a late casualty after he crashed in the final stretch, and suffered a possibly fractured collarbone. With a steady pace, Missaglia stunned the favorites as he made his move in the last kilometer, pulling away for the win. The second stage, the longest of the race at 209 km, will be held on Tuesday from Legazpia to Viana. year, el Grupo San Marco and which finished disappearing and full of debts. Finally he found room at Mapei, together with Paolo Lanfranchi. He attacked, together with the French National Champion, Stephane Heulot, but he was able to win in the final kilometers. The stage had no waste and showed us the essence of cycling, with continuous attacks, one after the other, with riders like Mikel Zarrabeitia, Marcelino Garcia, Neil Stephens, Dufaux, etc.

Stage 2, Legazpi-Viana, 209 km:

  1. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once               6.05.38 
  2. Alessandro Bertolini (Ita) MG
  3. Josi Luis Rubiera (Spa) Kelme
  4. Vjatjeslav Djavanian (Rus) Roslotto
  5. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Francaise des Jeux 
  6. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics
  7. Rolf Svrensen (Den) Rabobank
  8. Cedric Vasseur (Fra) Gan
  9. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) Once
 10. Sebastien Hinault (Fra) Gan
 14. Abraham Olano (Spa) Banesto.
 22. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelme
 35. Alex Zulle (Sch) Once
 42. Aitor Garmendia (Spa) Once
 68. Michael Blaudzun (Den) Rabobank         all s.t.
104. Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom                 + 0.30


  1. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Francaise des Jeux  9.21.11
  2. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once
  3. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco
  4. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics
  5. Gabriele Missaglia (Ita) Mapei
  6. Laurent Dufaux (Sch) Festina
  7. Josi Luis Arrieta (Spa) Banesto
  8. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) Once
  9. Mauro Gianetti (Sch) Francaise des Jeux 
 10. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita) Mapei            all s.t.

Jan Boven update

Jan Boven will come back to Holland on Thursday. He is now in a hospital in Zumarraga (Spain) after a fall in the Tour of the Basque Country. The transport is from Spain to Brussels; by ambulance Jan Boven will go to the academic hospital in Groningen (Holland). Boven needs at least two weeks complete rest; and will be out of peloton for around two months.

Mig hangs out for the peleton

Miguel Indurain (with family) came over to the Tour. He had to wait more than 20 minutes on the Alto de Urbasa (1st catagory); because the peloton was more than 20 minutes behind schedule after 56 km.

Stage 3, Viana - Vitoria, 189 km:

  1. Stefano Zanini (Ita) Mapei                5.07.56
  2. Scott Sunderland (Aus) Gan
  3. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Francaise des Jeux
  4. Lauren Jalabert (Fra) Once
  5. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics
  6. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco
  7. Massimiliano Mori (Ita) Saeco.
  8. Beat Zberg (Sch) Mercatone
  9. Ronan Pensec (Fra) Gan
 10. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Francaise des Jeux
 16. Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom
 17. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone
 20. Abraham Olano (Spa) Banesto
 21. Fernando Escartmn (Spa) Kelme
 36. Alex Zulle (Sch) Once
 45. Evgeni Berzin (Rus) Batik
 55. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) Once            all s.t.
 78. Michael Blaudzun (Den) Rabobank          	+  2.36
106 Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom                	+ 11.58
134 Rolf Sorensen (Den) Rabobank                s.t.


  1. Stephane Heulot (Fra) Francaise des Jeux 14.29.07
  2. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once
  3. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco
  4. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Saeco
  5. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spa) Banesto
  6. Mauro Gianetti (Sch) Francaise des Jeux
  7. Paolo Lanfranchi (Ita) Mapei
  8. Beat Zberg (Sch) Mercatone
  9. Laurent Dufaux (Sch) Festina
 10. Davide Rebellin (Ita) Francaise des Jeux
 11. Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom
 12. Abraham Olano (Spa) Banesto
 13. Fernando Escartmn (Spa) Kelme
 18. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) Once
 19. Alex Zuelle (Sch) Once
 24. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone 
 27. Enrico Zaina (Ita) Asics                all s.t.
 89. Michael Braudzun (Den) Rabobank         +   9.13
117 Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom                 + 19.05
135 Rolf Sorensen (Den) Rabobank              + 23.52

Stage 3 Report

The third stage of the Tour of the Basque Country wended its way for 197 kilometers from the Navarran town of Viana to the capital of Alavesa, Vitoria.

And it belonged to Laurent Jalabert of ONCE. Too bad he didn't win it though.

The stage started slow and uncertain. Other than ONCE, most of the teams in attendance didn't seem to want to be noticed. Nor were they particularly noticeable. The first action came after 35 kilometers and the climb to La Herrera. Gines Salmeron (Ita, Saeco) nipped Marco Pantani at the top and on the descent, two other riders jumped out in front: Alvaro Galdeano (Spa, Euskadi) and Toscaf's Moratilla. Galdeano dropped Moratilla and then headed off on a 105 kilometer escape which reached advantages of over 7 minutes. Galdeano, who has a long history of escapes, few of which have come to fruition, was to be denied again. As he headed up the highland plain to Vitoria, he was hit by a massive headwind which slowed him and allowed the peloton to eventually reach him and swallow him up.

It was shortly after the recapture of Galdeano that Laurent Jalabert made the jump off the front, despite the stiff headwinds, and only Pascal Herve, last year's second place finisher in the TBC, went with him. These two strong favorites moved quickly to a 30 second lead and the differences were growing steadily despite the peloton's draft advantage. On the last climb to Azazeta Jalabert dumped Herve hard. But his leader of the race status wouldn't last long. Back in the super-peloton, Neil Stephens did a great job blocking but finally the Banesto boys and Abraham Olano shook off their lethargy and used their pace line to beat the headwind and draw Jalabert back.

With Jalabert reeled in, the ONCE juggernaut began to prepare for the end game and the conquest of the stage and the yellow jersey for Jalabert. They let a number of challenges get away, Donatti, Casagrande, Garcia, Garmendia, Zarrabeitia, and even Zulle. Later Mauleon and Inigo Cuesta jumped and got a clear break. But ONCE kept the pace high and allowed the escapees no significant time differences and brought them back one by one.

With the end in sight, the ONCE boys moved up, bringing Jalabert into alignment for the sprint and the stage position needed to take the lead. But it wasn't to be. Stefano Zanini (Ita, Mapei) slipped onto Jalabert's wheel, slipped to the other side for the sprint, then jagged to the left, and won, reversing the finish of this same stage last year. In the crush Jalabert let up, fearing a mass crash, and slipped back, while bitterly arguing with yellow jersey holder Stephane Heulot. Heulot was attacked in sharp, vociferous French for "wheel-sucking" behind Jalabert and ONCE for the entire stage, never attacking, never putting his face to the wind, and then slipping by Jalabert to keep his hold on the yellow.

With two stages to go (the last stage split into a road race and a timetrial) the race is anyone's to win. There are NO time differences among the major riders after three consecutive sprint finishes and no time bonuses. Even the top eight teams in the general are tied. Which might explain why no one is bothering to post the overall standings since they are based on stage positions rather than time.

More Reports

Italian Stefano Zanini slipped through a tentative ONCE team to deny Frenchman Laurent Jalabert victory in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco's third stage on Wednesday. Jalabert and his ONCE team had formed a big group that caught early leader Alvaro Gonzalez of Spain with 30 kilometers left, but could not form a plan. Zanini then took advantage of the hesitation to take the intiative, sprinting him to take the winners' stage bonus in the 197-kilometer race that started from Viana, in the northern province of Navarra.

Zanini covered the distance in five hours, seven minutes, 56 seconds for his first win of the season. Australian Scott Sunderland, who had the same time came in second, followed by second stage winner Stephane Heulot of France. After breaking away at the 58th kilometer, Gonzalez, working on home terrain, built a lead of more than seven minutes and ran unthreatened for 105 kilometers. But the peloton caught up with him in the last 30 kilometers and Jalabert led at this point, although strong winds allowed Zanini and Marcelino Donati to catch up, and the main pack as well much later.

But confusion among his pacemakers deprived Jalabert of a much-needed win to overtake Heulot in the overall standings. Zanini took advantage of the jostling for position and bolted ahead of the pack to give his Mapei team its second stage of the race, after compatriot Gabriele Missaglia's opening stage win. Heulot still precariously held on to the overall lead with a total of 14:29:07, with several riders, led by Jalabert, and Italy's Francesco Casagrande, posting the same time. The 206-km fourth stage will be held on Thursday from Vitoria to Sopuerta.

This time ONCE attacked at a good place, after working hard to tire the field. That was the best thing for them to do, since they don't have the Yellow Jersey, which is still worn by Stephane Heulot, but they worked like if they did. The teamless leader took advantage of the work by ONCE, just like Stefano Zanini, the stage winner did, who when ONCE prepared the sprint for Jalabert, he placed himself on Jaja's wheel, went on the left and won. Heulot, also held ONCE wheels and then got on the final sprint, a perfect wheel-sucker.

This was an important stage, specially with the actions of Abraham Olano and his Banesto Team. Laurent Jalabert had attacked at only 34 kms. from the finish, in the company of Pascal Herve, who finished second last year at this race, three seconds from winner Francesco Casagrande. Jalabert, who was riding easily, dropped Herve. Neil Stephens, whose work, even after his fall at Legapzi, continues to be admirable, started pulling in front of the chase group, even though he's still in pain. In a moment of doubt, Olano took responsibility and that animated his team which placed Jimenez, Osa, Arrieta and Blanco ahead.

Olano breaks up Jalabert - They are the ones who were able to stop Jalabert's gap from increasing. Jalabert dropped Herve in the climb of Azazeta and took off alone and reached a minute difference. Without Banesto's work, it would have been more. Then there were attacks by other riders: Italian Donatti attacked and Marcelino Garcia went with him. After him, David Etxebarria and Zulle were attentive. ONCE left a great part of their artillery for the last part of the stage, looking for the surprise factor which they always like to try. Jalabert, Donatti and Marcelino Garcia would be caught and ONCE placed themselves ahead of the peloton. More than to work for Jalabert, to prevent any further attacks. In the end everybody took advantage of their work, they didn't win the stage or took the leader's jersey.

Stage 4, Gasteiz-Sopuerta, 206 km:

  1. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once             5.35.56
  2. Pascal Herve (Fra) Festina.
  3. Alex Zulle (Sch) Once                both s.t.
  4. Alberto Elli (Ita) Casino                + 0.21
  5. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco
  6. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics
  7. Fernando Escartmn (Spa) Kelme
  8. Gilles Bouvard (Fra) Festina
  9. David Etxeberrma (Spa) Once
 10. Mauro Gianetti (Sch) Francaise des Jeux
 12. Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom
 15. Bingen Fernandez (Spa) Euskadi
 22. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone
 28. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) Once
 32. Eugeni Berzin (Rus) Batik
 53. Bjarne Rijs (Den) Telekom
 54. Michael Blaudzun (Den) Rabobank        all s.t.

  Rolf Sorensen (Den) Rabobank did not finish.


  1. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once             20.05.03
  2. Pascal Herve (Fra) Festina
  3. Alex Zulle (Sch) Once                  both s.t.  
  4. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco          + 0.21
  5. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics
  6. Mauro Gianetti (Ita) Francaise des Jeux
  7. Beat Zberg (Sch) Mercatone
  8. Laurent Dufaux (Sch) Festina
  9. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spa) Banesto
 10. Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom
 11. Fernando Escartmn (Spa) Kelme
 15. Abraham Olano (Spa) Banesto
 16. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) Once
 19. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone          all s.t.
 76. Michael Blaudzun (Den) Rabobank         + 13.19
 98. Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom               + 23.31

Stage 4 Report

Frenchman Laurent Jalabert of ONCE took the overall lead Thursday of the 37th Vuelta al Pais Vasco after ruling the fourth stage from Vitoria to the Vizcayan town of Sopuerta. Jalabert, who also won the second stage, covered the 206-km route in five hours, 35 minutes and 56 seconds, the same time registered by his countryman Pascal Herve and his ONCE teammate, Swiss Alex Zuelle, 21 seconds ahead of their closest pursuers. Jalabert, Herve and Zuelle have the same overall time, but the veteran French sprinter leads by virtue of his stage win.

The stage started uneventfully until the final 60 kms when the members of ONCE and Festina began to play their cards. Upon reaching the Beci heights whose peak is some 70 kms from the finish line, the ONCE team placed a man in charge of towing a breakaway group composed of seven cyclists, which included Jalabert, Zuelle, their teammate Garcia, and Festina's Herve and Duafaux. The escape act fizzled out, but not for long as Jalabert and Zuelle again took charge, with only Herve, who last year wore the yellow jersey, able to keep pace. The trio opened a one-minute gap from the field, which was reduced by riders like Santiago Blanco of Spain, Russian Evgeni Berzin and Italians Della Santa and Pantani.

Stage 4 Report

ONCE doesn't know mercy - ONCE has needed four stages to blow the race wide open at this Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Since day one they have been pulling on things, looking for gaps which would permt them top decide the race before the final time trial. The stage took 177 kms. for things to get started and all the attacks didn't prosper, due to ONCE's control in the front, which had planned for an attack on the climb to Puchetas, a short climb, on which it was important to come in ahead. The first one to impose a demolishing tempo was Asturian Marcelino Garcia. Then Laurent Jalabert, who took off so easily, that he went alone. Alex Zulle followed him, behind him Pacal Herve. And Marco Pantani? The Italian rider himself explained at the finish line: "I was a bit tired when we reached that climb, which I didn't know about. I did notice that people were nervous to get in front, in good positions. If I would have been placed right, I could have gone with them".

The first two in the world - ONCE started to decide the race, Escartin and Dufaux tried to follow the firsts, but couldn't. Present in the main group were Chiappucci, Santi Blanco, Virenque, Dufaux, Olano, but the slope killed the peloton. The difference increased to 47 seconds, but Pantani's pull at the climb of Cobaron reduced the difference to twenty seconds. Mercatone worked for a while, but there was not a collective effort to bring them back. Saeco took too long to get organized. Banesto worked with Jose Luis Arrieta and Santi Blanco, but it was futile. When you have the number one and number two in the world in a breakaway and in good form, there isn't much to be done.

The leader, Stephane Heulot, didn't eat when he was supposed to, he was over confident and ended up 'bonking', he deflated completely. ONCE's intentions were shown way before the Pucheta climb, when at kilometer 143, climbing the the puerto de Beci, there was a break in front of the peloton which included Jalabert, Zulle, Marcelino Garcia, Luc Leblanc, Herve, Della Santa and Donatti. It was only a small clue to what was coming up.

Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, from Spanish Team ONCE, is the new overall leader of the 37th edition of la Vuelta al Pais Vasco after winning the fourth stage constested between Vitoria and Sopuerta, considered the "Queen Stage" and which could become decisive for the final overall. Laurent Jalabert, also the winner of the second stage, covered the 206 kms. in 5 hours, 35 minutes and 56 seconds, the same time at his compatriot Pascal Herve (Festina) and his teammate Swiss Alex Zuelle, while the main group (along with until then leader Stephane Heulot from le Francaise des Jeux) came in at 21 seconds.

The stage had a surprising development, after the way the early kilometers were covered, at 60 kms. to go, on the alto de Beci when ONCE and Festina uncovered their cards. It was on this climb that everything started, since ONCE placed their men in the front, driving like a train. First there was a small selection made, with only seven remaining ahead, with three ONCEs: Jalabert, Garcia and Zuelle plus Dufaux and Herve from Festina along with Leblanc and Donati. The escape didn't prosper, but a little later ONCE did it again with their heavy weights Jalabert and Zuelle. They attacked as if possessed and only Frenchman Herve was able to follow. This trio created a gap of almost one minute, which was the determining factor which made other contenders take over the responsibility of chasing, like Santiago Blanco, Eugeni Berzin, Della Santa and Pantani. The peloton's effort weren't as hard as it should have been and although only Jalabert and Zuelle worked in the trio, they couldn't decrease the gap. They opened a big enough gap to be able to take the victory and put the race up-side down, that it amongst Jalabert, Zuelle and Herve.

Stage 5a, Sopuerta-Arrasate, 97 km:

 1. Stefano Zanini (Ita) Mapei
 2. Vjatjeslav Djavanian (Rus) Roslotto
 3. Fabio Baldato (Ita) MG                 
 4. Andrei Zintchenko (Rus) Deporpublic                       
 5. Massimiliano Mori (Ita) Saeco                             
 6. Mario Manzoni (Ita) Roslotto                       
 7. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spa) Banesto                     
 8. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics                
 9. Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Mercatone              
10. Rodolfo Massi (Ita) Casino                         
18. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once                        
28. Jan Ulrich (Ger) Telekom                     
33. Alex Zuelle (Swi) Once                           
42. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelme                
76. Bjarne Rijs (Den) Telekom                    
98. Eugeni Berzin (Rus) Batik                    
105 Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Mapei             all s.t.

Stage 5b, Fagor-Gatza Gain - Salinas, 12.5 km (Mountain ITT):

 1. Alex Zulle (Sch) Once
 2. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone            	0.22
 3. Chris Boardman (GB) Gan               	0.23
 4. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once             	0.31
 5. Marcelino Garcia (Spa) Once             	0.40
 6. Massimo Donati (Ita) Saeco           	1:01
 7. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) ONCE               	1:02
 8. Luc Leblanc (Fra) Polti                    	1:11
 9. Abraham Olano (Spa) Banesto                	1:11
10. Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Mapei                  	1:12
15. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelme               1:22
22. Richard Virenque (Fra) Festina            	1:37
24. Jan Ulrich (Ger) Telekom                  	1:38
25. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco          	1:39
26. Eugeni Berzin (Rus) Batik           	1:43
30. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics            	1:47
49. Piotre Ugrumov (Rus) Roslotto             	2:26
92. Giani Bugno (Ita) Mapei                   	4:02

Bjarne Riis (Den) Telekom dns.

Stage 5a and 5b Reports

Swiss Alex Zuelle, from Team ONCE, achieved the overall win at the 37th edition edition of la Vuelta al Pais Vasco -his second of thsi race in his career- when he won with authority the final 12.5 kms. mountain time trial. The Swiss covered the distance in 20:14 minutes, half a minute less than his closest rival, his teammate Frenchman Laurent Jalabert, leader until then and more than one minute over Pascal Herve. Just like in 1995, Zuelle took the overall, followed by his teammate Jalabert, winner of two stages and Italian Marco Pantani. The best time for a lot of minutes was marked by the Hour Record holder, British Chris Boardman, who was the reference to follow.

The first sector of this stage was disputed in the morning, a 97 kilometer road race, which had as winner, Italian Stefano Zanini, from team Mapei. The morning sector didn't have much of a story other than the finish, since ONCE perfectly controlled the race and didn't allow any escapes, by imposing a tough tempo. ONCE responded to all attacks, specially on the second section, where Italians Marco Pantani and Mario Chiesa and Frenchman Luc Leblanc pulled ahead. Together with these riders, the riders from Team Cafes Toscaf, made ONCE work hard, but they didn't have any problems controlling the situation. In the sprint finish, Stefano Zanini (Mapei) won, but not without complications in the sprint by Russian Viatcheslav Djavanian (Roslotto) and Italian Fabio Baldato (Mg Technogym).

The other worthy piece of news was the fall without consequences by Tour'96 winner, Dane, Bjarne Riis when his bike was hooked to a cable in Japanese Abe Yohiyuki's bike and crashed with a car and hit the floor. He was able to continue, but the crash cost him eleven minutes.

Final overall:

  1. Alex Zulle (Sch) Once                  22.36.40
  2. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) Once              + 0.32
  3. Marco Pantani (Ita) Mercatone            + 0.44
  4. Marcelino Garcia (Spa) Once              + 1.01
  5. Chris Boardman (Gbr) Gan                 + 1.16
  6. Mikel Zarrabeitia (Spa) Once             + 1.24
  7. Luc Leblanc (Fra) Polti                  + 1.33
  8. Abraham Olano (Spa) Banesto              + 1.33
  9. Gianni Faresin (Ita) Mapei               + 1.35
 10. Pascal Herve (Fra) Festina               + 1.39
 14. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Kelme            + 1.44
 20. Richard Virenque (Fra) Festina           + 1.59
 21. Jan Ullrich (Ger) Telekom                + 2.00
 22. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Saeco         + 2.00
 24. Claudio Chiappucci (Ita) Asics           + 2.09
 29. Laurent Dufaux (Sch) Festina             + 2.24
 34. Evgeni Berzin (Rus) Batik                + 2.35
 60. Pavel Tonkov (Rus) Mapei                 + 8.58
 69. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) MG                + 14.19
 73. Michael Blaudzun (Den) Rabobank         + 16.13
 78. Piotr Ugrumov (Rus) Roslotto            + 19.22
102. Alessandro Bertolini (Ita) MG           + 38.09
103. Gianni Bugno (Ita) Mapei                + 39.48
111. Hernan Buenahora (Col) Kelme            + 44.07

Interview with Winner

Swiss Alex Zuelle, from Team ONCE achieved his second victory at the prestigious Vuelta al Pais Vasco and commented that he didn't expect to inaugurate his 1997 palmares with the Mountain Time Trial and the overall of this race. "The merit belongs to the whole team. They have carried me, they have done the 'dirty work' on each stage to diffuse our rivals", said Zuelle.

He said that" "The race was more tranquil than expected and my team has done enough to win. The Mountain ITT was not easy -said Zuelle- due to the flat kilometers in the first part and the last three kilometers in a very steep climb. I sincerely didn't need references, since during the whole race I was certain of winning and I felt good. Much better than at Setmana Catalana where I finished second". Alex Zuelle added that this victory was great preparation for his objectives. "I'm preparing for the Tour, but not forgetting about la Vuelta a Espana. Both races are in my sights. If all depends how I do at the Tour. If I'm fine, I should be fine for La Vuelta also".

Zuelle commented that: "At the start there wasn't a defined leader. Manolo, the director, told us that everyone should go at their own rhythm, but being careful with the rivals". The winner added that: "Luckily Jalabert didn't bet for the final win. I had suggested a friendly wager, but he didn't want to".