This story first appeared in Spanish at Volata
“I had a special inspiration and I wasn't going to stop until I did it. I didn't care about the overall, I just wanted to dedicate a stage to him. Here it is, Gino”.
Those were the words with which Pello Bilbao's emotion spread to all of us who jumped off the sofa in a unique, emotional and very special moment for the cyclist from Gernika at the finish line in Issoire. Because it is not only his first victory in the Tour de France, it is one with added meaning. It's been a childhood dream he's been pursuing since he made the leap to the professional ranks 13 years ago, and moreover, something he wanted to dedicate to his late Bahrain-Victorious team-mate, Gino Mäder.. Bilbao’s stage 10 victory is also the first Spanish win since Omar Fraile's victory in Mende in 2018.
He may not have won in his home region – the scene of this year’s Grand Départ – but Bilbao achieved what he set out to do, showing that winning character that he has been building over the years in parallel to his role as one the most reliable domestiques in the peloton. The Basque rider arrived at the finish line in Issoire exhausted after completing a gruelling day in the heart of the Massif Central, mastering a very complicated breakaway. “I had a hard time controlling the situation because I was at the limit, but I guess we were all going the same way. In the end, we went flat out from start to finish”, he said at the finish.
This victory brings together the elements that define the personality of Pello Bilbao as a cyclist: temperance, sacrifice, fight, persistence, intuition... He filtered into the breakaway after the peloton has been involved in numerous battles, some of them even with Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar as protagonists. His position in the general classification added extra complication, just under five minutes from the podium, so both Bilbao and his breakaway companions had to push for the move to bear fruit.
There was collaboration, his presence was never a hindrance and that boosted a breakaway made up of riders such as Julian Alaphilippe, Esteban Chaves, Ben O'Connor, Mattias Skjelmose, Michał Kwiatkowski, Warren Barguil, Georg Zimmermann, as well as Krists Neilands, who almost changed the course of the stage.
The Latvian from Israel-Premier Tech went on a 30km solo adventure on the ramps of the Côte de La Chapelle-Marcousse with a solidity that seemed insurmountable. But the chasing group put its head down, suffered in unison and organised to hunt him down with just over three kilometres to go. It was then that Pello Bilbao had to mitigate in first person the dance of attacks trying to surprise. He dried up every move with ease and measured his distance (200 m) to launch the sprint, raise his arms and pay the best possible tribute to Gino Mäder.
Today the whole peloton finished behind Pello Bilbao, who has so far already accumulated 1,307 euros in his initiative to reforest a piece of land in Urdaibai, the unique Biosphere Reserve in Basque Country, and keep alive Gino's legacy and environmental commitment.