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Launching a strong attack from a 20-rider break, Calmejane soloed to victory on stage 4 of the Vuelta a Espana; Atapuma finished second and took the red jersey while there was casefire between the favourites

Photo: A.S.O.








23.08.2016 @ 18:07 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) confirmed that he is the next big French climber when he claimed an impressive neo-pro win on just his fourth day of racing in his debut grand tour at the Vuelta a Espana. In the second summit finish of the race, he emerged as the strongest from a big 20-rider breakaway as he held off the late comeback from Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Ben King (Cannondale) and Andrey Zeits (Astana). Second place was enough for Atapuma to take the red jersey while all the big favourites finished in the same time.


Despite his many stage wins in his final year at the U23 level, Lilian Calmejane was not the neo-pro with most attention when he started his career with the Direct Energie team in February. However, a fantastic start that saw him animate the hard French races in the winter culminated with a third place in Tour Provence and suddenly he was in the spotlight as one of the most exciting French climbers and Ardennes classics specialists.


Unfortunately, Calmejane failed to confirm his strong start and he had a hard time in the spring. Hence, he had slipped a bit off the radar when he lined up for his first grand tour at the Vuelta a Espana.


Today, however, Calmejane reminded everybody why he had got so much attention at the start of the year when he rode to an impressive solo win on the second mountain stage of his first three-week race. With a strong attack from a 20-rider group, he rode away from top climbers like Darwin Atapuma, Thomas De Gendt and Pierre Rolland and then rode alone for almost 10km to take the victory.


The other big winner of the day was Atapuma. The Colombian was unable to match Calmejane but by taking second on the stage, he gained enough time on the main group to move into the overall lead with a 29-second advantage over Alejandro Valverde.


For the GC riders, it was a day on the defensive as the final climb was not hard enough to make a difference. In the end, it ended as a bit of a ceasefire and the only big loser was race leader Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) who decided to sacrifice himself for his team and slipped to seventh in the overall standings.


The action played out on the final climb. After a hectic start, 20 rider had gone clear in the day’s break and when Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Enrico Battaglin (Lotto NL - Jumbo), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Chad Haga (Giant - Alpecin), Axel Domont (AG2R - La Mondiale), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Zdenek Stybar (Etixx - Quick Step), Benjamin King and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale - Drapac), Nathan Haas and Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Lawrence Warbasse and Marcel Wyss (IAM Cycling), Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre - Merida), Stéphane Rossetto ( Cofidis), Cesare Benedetti and Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon18), Angel Madrazo and Jaime Roson (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA) and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) had an advantage of more than 5 minutes, it was clear that they would battle it out for the stage win. Right after the intermediate sprint with 15km to go, Domont attacked and he got the biggest gap yet. As he hit the final 11km climb, he led the chasers by more than 15 seconds and the peloton at 4.30.


In the run-in to the climb, Tinkoff had been in control in the peloton and Daniele Bennati took a final big turn before Sky took over with Salvatore Puccio. The British team was in front for a few metres but as they hit the climb, Jose Joaquin Rojas had taken control for Movistar. The group exploded to pieces as Van Garderen, Machado, Felline, Gesink and Mamykin were among the many riders toget distanced.


In the chase group, King sacrificed himself for Rolland and sent several riders out the back door before he brought Domont back with 9km to go. Calmejane made an immediate counterattack and the Frenchman proved his great talent as he got a big advantage.


Rolland took off in pursuit of Calmejane and the two Frenchmen increased their advantage over the chase group Atapuma did a lot of work as he was riding more for the red jersey than the stage win. The Colombian briefly attacked but failed to get clear.


With 7.5km to go, Rojas swung off in the peloton and let his teammate Jose Herrada take over. He kept the gap to Calmejane relatively stable at 3.30 as they hit the final 5km. Here the Frenchman led Rolland by 18 seconds and the big group by 32 seconds.


Calmejane dug deep and had extended his advantage to 45 seconds when he hit the final 3km. That’s where Atapuma decided to go all in and only Zeits, Roson, Haas and King could hang on as he made it back to Rolland. He didn’t hesitate for a moment as he made an immediate attack and this time only Haas could follow.


Atapuma soon dropped his companion but then started to fade. Calmejane was still looking strong and instead of getting any closer, the Colombian was joined by Zeits and King.


In the peloton Jonathan Castroviejo took over for Movistar but when Peter Kennaugh (Sky) attacked, the team decided to sacrifice race leader Ruben Fernandez. The Spaniard hit the front but was unable to keep the Brit in check and so the Sky rider slowly increased his advantage.


Calmejane hit the final kilometre with an advantage of 26 seconds over his three chasers and even though he suffered, he had enough left in the tank. With 200m to go, he zipped up his jersey and then rolled across the line for a fantastic first pro win. Fifteen seconds later, Atapuma beat King and Zeits in the sprint for second.


In the peloton, Fernandez swung off and fell off the pace as he left it to teammate Daniel Moreno to set the pace. David De La Cruz then increased the speed with his teammate Gianluca Brambilla behind and he managed to bring Kennaugh back. As he kept riding on the front, lots of riders were getting dropped and with 500m to go, only Contador, Quintana, Chaves, Valverde, Froome, Kennaugh, König, Sanchez, Scarponi, Talansky, Latour, Meintjes, De la Cruz and Brambilla were left. When De La Cruz swung off, Valverde and Chaves launched the sprint and they battled it out for the minor placings, with the Spaniard leading the group across the line 2.05 behind the stage winner for 20th place.


Atapuma may have missed out on the stage win but it was enough to take over the race lead. The Colombian now leads Valverde by 29 seconds, with Froome sitting four seconds further back in third. He faces a much easier stage tomorrow when the sprinters are expected to be back in action. After a flat start, the riders will face a single category 3 climb at the midpoint and then it’s a flat run to the finish where a technical and slightly uphill run-in to the expected bunch sprint awaits the tired peloton.


A tough uphill finish

After yesterday’s first summit finish, the riders faced another stern test on stage 4 which brought them over 163.5km from Betanzos to the top of the category 2 climb San Andres de Teixido. After 18km of flat riding, the riders hit the first of two early category 3 climbs but after the second challenge, the stage was mainly flat. However, they faced a tough finale as the final 11.2km were uphill at an average gradient of 4-8%.


The 197 riders who finished yesterday's stage were all present in the early afternoon when they rolled through the neutral zone on a sunny but slightly colder day. Right from the start, a BMC rider attacker but like the many other attackers, he had no luck. Movistar controlled things firmly and so no one had gone clear after 8km of racing.


Moreno on the attack

Four kilometers later nine riders escaped but neither they nor the next 18 riders got a big gap. At the same time had Pierre Latour (Ag2r) spent valuable energy to rejoin the peloton after a mechanical.


Movistar was still in control as they hit the day's first climb where the peloton exploded to pieces. In the chaos, 19 riders escaped and this time Movistar had Daniel Moreno in the group. Therefore Astana had to chase and they managed to bring it back together


Fernandez joins the break

After 32 km, a new 19-rider group escaped and this time it was none other than race leader Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) joined the move. He was too dangerous for Sky and so they were brought back too. The pace was too much for Vicente Reynes (IAM) who became the second rider to leave the race due to prostatitis.


Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) beat Egor Silin (Katusha) and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) in the first KOM sprint, after which 20 riders escaped. At the 40km mark, they had a gap of 28 seconds, and then another rider managed to bridge the gap. Hence, the break had benne established as the peloton let its lead grow to 1.48 after 50km of racing. At the same time, Federico Zurlo (Lampre-Merida) became the third rider to leave the race.


21 riders get clear

Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Enrico Battaglin (Lotto NL - Jumbo), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Nikias Arndt and Chad Haga (Giant - Alpecin), Axel Domont (AG2R - La Mondiale), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Zdenek Stybar (Etixx - Quick Step), Benjamin King and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale - Drapac), Nathan Haas and Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Lawrence Warbasse and Marcel Wyss (IAM Cycling), Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre - Merida), Stéphane Rossetto ( Cofidis), Cesare Benedetti and Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon18), Angel Madrazo and Jaime Roson (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA) and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) formed the group which had 1.55 at the bottom of the second climb. A the top, De Gendt again won the KOM sprint, this time in front of Domont and Madrazo. The peloton reached the top 2.22 later.


After a hectic start, things finally calmed down as they headed into flatter terrain. With 100km to go, the gap had gone out to 3.25 and Movistar had taken control with Imanol Erviti and Rory Sutherland.

Erviti and Sutherland had to ride pretty hard to keep the gap between 3.30 and 4.00 for several kilometres and they didn’t even slow down to wait for their teammate Jonathan Castroviejo when the Spaniard sufferede a mechanical. Meanwhile, Arndt decided to wait for the peloton, probably to save energy for tomorrow’s sprint stage.


The attacking starts

Slowly the escapees got the upper hand and so they had increased their advantage to 4.45 as they hit the final 65km. Sutherland and Erviti upped the pace and so slowly reduced it to 4.20 where they kept it stable for some time.


With 40km to go, the fight for the stage win started as Domont launched a first attack. De Gendt, King, Haga, Benedetti and Roson joined him but Warbasse quickly shut it down. Meanwhile, the peloton threw in the towel as they stopped for a natural break and so the gap had gone out to 5 minutes as they hit the final 30km.


Strong move by De Gendt

The escapees briefly cooperated again but there was no longer any harmony as riders constantly launched small accelerations while others were skipping turns. With 25km to go, De Gendt made a big attack and even got a solid gap. However, King shut it down as he worked hard to keep Rolland in contention.


Stybar was the next to try and he was joined by King to form a strong duo. However, they had no luck and the next move from Domont was not successful either.


Lots of attacks

Madrazo attacked with 20km where the gap to the peloton had gone out to 5.25 and he got a solid advantage. However, De Gendt was brutally strong and easily shut him down before launching a solo move. A big turn by Rossetto brought the Belgian back.


Grmay was the next to get a small advantage but with 17km to go, the group was back together. Moments later, Stybar beat King and De Gendt in the intermediate sprint.


With 15km to go, the fight for position intensified in the peloton where Orica-BikeExchange took control with Jack Haig. Daniele Bennati, Manuele Boaro and Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff) came to the fore next but they were still 5.15 behind and out of the battle for the stage win. Moments later, Domont attacked from the break and so signaled the start of the finale.



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