The Tour Take | Vuelta a Espana Stage 4
1st – Ben King (Team Dimension Data)
2nd – Nikita Stalnov (Team Astana) @ 0:02
3rd – Pierre Rolland (Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale) @ 0:13
Red - Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)
Green - Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)
Polka Dot - Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis)
22nd - Jack Haig
56th - Simon Clarke
92nd - Damien Howson
95th - Jai Hindley
96th - Damien Howson
98th - Rohan Dennis
1st - Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)
2nd - Emanuel Buchmann (Bora - hansgrohe) @ 0:07
3rd - Simon Yates (Mitchelton - SCOTT) @ 0:10
4th - Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar) @ 0:12
5th - Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) @ 0:25
6th - Jon Izagirre (Bahrain - Merida) @ 0:30
8th - Nairo Quintana (Team Movistar) @ 0:33
9th - Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) @ 0:37
12th - Thibaut Pinot (Groupama - FDJ) @ 0:43
13th - George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) @ 0:45
14th - Miguel Angel Lopez (Team Astana) 0:46
15th - Rigoberto Uran (Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale) @ 0:48
Stage 4 and it’s mountains time, with the peloton climbing two Cat 1 climbs on the 161km route from Velez-Malaga to Sierra de la Alfacar. The Alto de la Cabra Montees (18.4km @ 4%) came midway through the stage, before the finishing climb, the Sierra de la Alfaguara (12.4km @ 5.4%)
The Key Point
After a gradual opening, the Sierra de la Alfacar’s toughest slopes came midway through with gradients hitting 11%. For the majority of the second half of the climb, it sat in the region of 6-7%, making for a fairly constant test. It eased off in the final kilometres, with an average of 4% in the final 2km.
Luis Angel Mate and Pierre Rolland were again in the break with big mountain points on offer (which Mate took). They were joined by Jelle Wallays, Ben King, Nikita Stalnov, Ben Gastauer, Aritz Bagues, Oscar Cabedo Carda, Lars Boom to make nine at the front. The group worked well together, and nearing the base of the final climb they were still out front with a 9:00 gap to the bunch.
At this point the group’s cohesion was lost though, and after several attempts to get away, King, Wallays and Stalnov started the climb alone. Wallays was dropped almost immediately as the climb began and the other two set off alone.
With King and Stalnov out front on the lower slopes of the Sierra de la Alfacar, Pierre Rolland had bridged up to Wallays and was 25 second behind them. The LottoNL-Jumbo led peloton was also ramping up the pace, and closing the gap quickly, down to 6:00 by 6km to go.
On the steeper section of the climb and Rolland was still dangling half a minute out the back, but as they reached the final kilometre, he was closing in on them. King had gambled by not taking a turn, but he opened the sprint with 300m to go, and easily sprinted away from Stalnov and Rolland.
In the peloton behind, LottoNL-Jumbo’s pace had shredded the group. With barely 15 riders left at 3km to go, Simon Yates opened the attacks. Yates maintained his gap over the Red Jersey group, with only Emanuel Buchmann able to bridge across to him from that group.
The Winning Ride
A classy ride from King, who takes his maiden Grand Tour stage win. He stayed out fo trouble all day until the crucial moments, and stayed with Stalnov up the climb despite looking to be really suffering. He held his cool in the final kilometres when Rolland looked to be bridging up and it paid off.
3 - Ben King. Cool, calm and composed.
2 - Simon Yates. The Vuelta is never short on drama, but a friskey Yates won’t do any harm
1 - Pierre Rolland. Rolland didn't do a whole lot wrong, simply missing the move that gave King and Stalnov a headstart into the climb. He might have been the strongest, but just not the smartest.
Leaders: Dennis, Kwiatkowski, Vivianni, Valverde (3), De Plus, Mate (2), Campenaerts, Postlberger (1), De Gendt (-1)
The Movers and Shakers
Simon Yates looks to have brought the same form and mindset he took to the Giro, despite pledging he’d be more restrained here. It was another canny ride from the Brit, who’s becoming adept at finding 20 seconds on mountaintop finishes. It was also a great ride from Buchmann, who’s made the Vuelta his top target this year; he’s moved into second on GC now.
Michal Kwiatkowski held onto the Red Jersey, and his GC challenge looks a little more legitimate now, finishing as the top rider form Team Sky and looking more comfortable than many of his more fancied rivals.
The Next Stage
Though Stage 5 has just the two categorized climbs, it’s up and down all day long. The final climb, the Cat 2 Alto el Marchal is long and shallow (14.9@ at 3.8%), and tops out with 26km to go. A long descent leads to an 8km flat section to the line. For those sprinting, the course takes two big left-handers in the final kilometre, before a straight final 400m.
How the day plays out is going to depend on how the pace is pushed on that final climb; we’ve seen Sky and Movistar both happy to ramp up the intensity already here, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them do it again.
For that reason, we probably won’t see many traditional sprinters going for the win. Valverde and Kwiatkowski could be the two duelling in the sprint, with bonus seconds on the line. We’ll back the overall leader to extend his lead.
See you back at the social club,