Vuelta’15 St.4: Valverde Yet Again!
Race Report: The Green Bullet himself, Alejandro Valverde, was the man in the right place at the right time to win today’s haul into Vejer de la Frontera. As he so often seems to be, the Spanish veteran was just where he needed to be in the final meters of a steep finish to burst past Ireland’s Nicolas Roche for the victory.
Today was another scorching day, albeit a slow-burner of a stage with a long-established breakaway left to fry in the sun. The firestorm only kicked off for real inside the final five kilometers with a twisty, technical, up-and-down finish. Virtually all the big names were in there – Rodriguez and Sagan among them – but it was Valverde who did the business as Sagan seemed to get surprised by the finish.
How it played out: It was a snip under (another very hot) 210 kilometers today, as the riders cruised from Estepona to Vejer de la Frontera on the second-longest stage of this year’s Vuelta. Given the mayhem of the last few days with crashes, withdrawals, exclusions and enough polemics to fill an average Giro d’Italia twice over, the relief felt when the early break went was palpable.
From the flag, six rocketed clear of the peloton, with a couple of oft-spotted breakaways including LottoNL-Jumbo’s Bert-Jan Lindeman and FDJ’s French strongman Mickael Delage. Lampre-Merida’s Kristijan Durasek was in there alongside Trek Factory Racing’s Markel Irizar, Nikolas Maes from Etixx – Quick-Step and Tour of Luxembourg prologue professor Jimmy Engoulvent.
After one hour of riding and an average speed of 25 miles per hour, the fact the escape was a dozen minutes clear showed where the field’s priorities lay. Things picked up a little as the race ground on, and the break’s lead – which had peaked at over 13 minutes – came down under eight minutes with 100 kilometers on the clock.
Who will chase?
The main field seemed engaged in a protracted game of “After you,” followed by: “No, my friend, after you.” It was all in a bid to avoid doing the donkey work under the glaring sun. Tinkoff-Saxo seemed unable to pass the burden and after Sagan’s win yesterday, they were expected to do the chores. Orica-GreenEDGE loitered nearby for Caleb Ewan, and Giant-Alpecin for John Degenkolb.
The striking bridge, El Puente de la Pepa, came and went, serving to sap the breakaway riders’ legs as much as the headwind did. The lead started to tumble, and by the time the field hit 40 kilometers to race, it was under two minutes.
Team Sky had hit the front, drilling the pace to keep Chris Froome safe; then Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo came forward. No wonder, as the riders whizzed through 35 kilometers to go, with the road narrowing alarmingly, barely wide enough for two-abreast and tons of concrete too close. Inevitably, a crash on a roundabout, with Tejay van Garderen getting held up.
28 kilometers to go, and the lead was under half-a-minute, as Sagan sat serenely in his green jersey behind a protective barrier of his Tinkoff-Saxo men. Van Garderen with a phalanx of BMC men was chasing desperately, but the pile-up at the roundabout had tailed off a number of riders.
20 to go
Heading towards 20 to go, and the escape had fallen to bits with just Engoulvent and Irizar fighting seemingly insurmountable odds. Van Garderen had suffered a frustrating chase through the cars burning energy he didn’t want to waste; the same for Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) who’d had a mechanical.
Engoulvent and Irizar saw the life choked out of their break with exactly 11 kilometers to race, with Tinkoff-Saxo barrelling through. Behind them, it was BMC, Movistar and Sky starting to mass.
The route profile had been an animal lying in wait all day, hunkered as close to the ground and sea-level as possible, with barely any significant altitude gain that couldn’t be matched by a child flying a kite. But … there were a couple of big kicks right at the end.
Inside eight to go, Tinkoff-Saxo were screaming along ahead of a nasty corner with just under five clicks to race, and then a fearsome incline.
Four kilometers to go, and there was a sharp right-hander off a motorway, onto a 12% mountain road. Movistar started the fireworks straight away, after a brief cameo from FDJ.fr’s Kevin Reza.
The climb to the line
The field had gone from basically 45 miles per hour to about 6 miles an hour through one corner. Lotto Soudal’s Tosh van der Sande was the first significant mover, but he was quickly overhauled by Caja Rural’s Pello Bilbao who was hanging solo with three to go.
Katusha, working for Joaquim Rodriguez and Dani Moreno, just controlled the front of the peloton as the road levelled out and disappeared down side streets, in and out of the shadows. Inside two to go, and Bilbao’s brave effort was ruined by BMC’s Sammy Sanchez as the road suddenly tilted downwards towards a crazy finish.
Sky’s Nico Roche got across to Sanchez, but the peloton was coming as the road schizophrenically steepled up again.
Fire the Green Bullet
The finish was a short-sharp shock to the system, ideal for a punchy sprinter like Sagan, or a hilly classics guy… like Alejandro Valverde who has a trademark in situations like these. The Movistar man was in the right place again to zip past Roche and sweep through the final corners to edge Sagan, Moreno, the Irishman, and José Gonzçalves for the win.
The young Colombian Esteban Chaves was close enough to hang on to his leader’s red jersey. Thanks for reading!
Vuelta a España Stage 4 Result:
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar in 5:07:30
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo
3. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha
4. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Sky
5. José Gonçalves (Por) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
7. Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis at 0:03
8. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo
9. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar
10. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEDGE
11. Romain Hardy (Fra) Cofidis
12. Sergio Luis Henao (Col) Sky
13. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Alpecin
14. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R-La Mondiale
15. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky
16. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
17. Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Astana
18. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx – Quick-Step
19. Fabrice Jeandesboz (Fra) Europcar
20. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana
21. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC
22. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC
23. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Sky
24. Daniel Martin (Irl) Cannondale-Garmin
25. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Astana.
Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 4:
1. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-GreenEDGE in 13:11:34
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Alpecin at 0:05
3. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Sky at 0:12
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 0:25
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) Cannondale-Garmin at 0:27
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 0:32
7. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha at 0:33
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 0:36
9. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky at 0:40
10. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 0:50
11. Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Astana at 0:51
12. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Sky
13. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC at 0:55
14. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R-La Mondiale at 1:04
15. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx – Quick-Step
16. Sergio Luis Henao (Col) Sky at 1:06
17. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo at 1:14
18. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Astana
19. Andre Cardoso (Por) Cannondale-Garmin at 1:15
20. Songezo Jim (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka at 1:21
21. Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis at 1:37
22. Romain Sicard (Fra) Europcar at 1:39
23. Maxime Bouet (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step at 2:03
24. Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 2:04
25. George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo.