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Timing a late attack over the top of a small climb with 1km to go perfectly, Sanchez narrowly held off a 16-rider chase group to win stage 4 of Vuelta al Pais Vasco; Costa beat Barguil in the sprint for second and Kelderman took the lead

Photo: Tim De Waele/TDW Sport












07.04.2016 @ 17:46 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Samuel Sanchez (BMC) proved that he is still a force to be reckoned with in professional cycling by claiming an impressive victory in the hard fourth stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The Spaniard attacked from an elite group of GC riders on a small climb with 1km to go of the hard stage that included the wall in Aia and narrowly held off his chasers, with Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) beating Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) in the sprint for second. Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) took the leader’s jersey as Mikel Landa (Sky) lost 8 seconds in the finale.


Riding for the local Euskaltel team, Samuel Sanchez has been one of the most successful riders in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The Spaniard won the queen stage to Arrate three times in a row from 2010 and 2012 and crowned it all with the overall win in 2012.


However, Sanchez has had a few difficult years since the demise of Euskaltel and had a hard time finding a new team for both 2014 and 2015. He proved his class by riding to a top 10 at the 2014 Vuelta but as he failed to reach peak form in 2015, many believed that Father Age had caught up with the strong Spaniard.


Sanchez didn’t feature on the list of favourites for this year’s edition of his favourite event but in the first few stages, the Spaniard has proved that he is a serious contender. He was an excellent fourth – second from the group of favourites – in the summit finish on stage 2 and today he took his first win since 2013 by taking his 8th stage win in the Basque race.


The stage included the brutally steep wall in Aia whose 20% gradients would challenge the riders before they reached the top with 13.1km of mainly descending left. However, there was a short little 1km climb in the finale and this was where Sanchez would make his move.


At the bottom of the Alto de Aia, an early break of Angel Vicioso (Katusha), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Simone Petilli (Lampre-Merida), Carlos Verona (Team Quick Step), Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) and Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) had a small advantage of 1.35 over the peloton which was controlled by Sky Riblon led the group onto the wall while Vasil Kiryienka was leading the bunch where there was a big fight for position. Michael Valgren (Tinkoff) led the group onto the ascent before he left it to his teammate Roman Kreuziger to up the pace.


Sky wisely led the Czech get an unintentional gap and so he had to slow down. Instead, David Lopez rode on the front for Sky, keeping a steady tempo and holding the gap at a minute. He didn’t react when Warren Barguil attacked but still rode so fast that the group exploded to pieces.


Kreuziger went again and quickly caught Barguil but Lopez knew that he could not let the Czech go away. He slowly approached from behind and when Fabio Aru (Astana) attacked, he marked the Italian closely, with the Astana captain dragging the entire group back to the two attackers. Aru tried again but as he failed to get clear, Lopez again hit the front.


Further up the road, Vicioso had been distanced while Petilli was yo-yoing off the back of the group. The cooperation ended when Mate and Verona went clear but after Wellens had latched onto the duo, Riblon and Petilli also regained contact.


Mate accelerated slightly to win the KOM sprint that preceded a small descent before the really steep part, leading Verona, Petilli, Riblon and Wellens across the line. Lopez led the peloton to the top one minute later and brought Vicioso back on the descent.


As soon as they hit the steep part, Wellens attacked but Mate and Verona marked him closely. Petilli also regained contact but it was further back that things really heated up.


Kreuziger attacked again and while Lopez closed it down, race leader Mikel Landa (Sky) was dropped from the group. Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) was the next to try but Sebastian Henao reacted for Sky and went straight to the front to set the pace.


Further up the road, Verona put in a strong attack and Wellens had to set his own pace. The Belgian slowly reeled him in and passed on the steepest section.


Here Sergio Henao (Sky)launched the expected attack and he immediately dropped everybody while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) formed a chase duo. Rodriguez, Vervaeke, Kelderman, Costa, Pinot, Sanchez, Gesink, Reichenbach, Barguil and Aru formed the next group as the peloton exploded and Landa found himself far behind.


Verona and Wellens joined forces on the front and were caught by Henao just as they reached the summit. Contador and Quintana also got back while Mate was the next to cross the line.


Verona accelerated over the top to win the KOM sprint ahead of Henao, Wellens and Contador and he persisted in his attack on the descent. As there was no cooperation, he quickly got a 10-second advantage and this forced Wellens to make two attacks until he finally escaped. Maté also flew past the three GC riders who failed to work together and so were caught by a rather big group of around 30 riders that also included Landa.


Wellens and Mate worked well together and with 4km to go, they caught the lone Spaniard. Further back, there was no control in the peloton and this allowed Simon Spilak (Katusha) to attack. Aru and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) also got clear, forcing Sky to chase hard with Sebastian Henao.


Aru and Pinot were brought back as they hit the small climb with 2200m to go and moments later Spilak was also back in the fold. Verona tried to attack from the front trio but he was closely marked by his companions and as Kreuziger went full gas in the peloton, the trio was caught halfway up the climb.


When Kreuziger swung off, Wilco Kelderman attacked but it was the counterattack from Contador that was the strongest. Henao quickly joined the Spaniard while Sanchez yo-yoed off the back, with Rui Costa, Kelderman, Vuillermoz and Quintana chasing further back.


Sanchez gauged his effort perfectly and made a well-timed attack over the top of the climb, quickly getting a gap to Contador, Henao and Costa. Kelderman, Quintana, Vuillermoz and Barguil joined those three riders before a bigger 16-rider group gathered.


Barguil desperately led the chase on the wet descent but there was nothing to be done against the unstoppable Sanchez. The Spaniard held on to win the stage by less than a second before Costa narrowly passed Barguil to take second.


Landa was dropped on the final climb and lost 8 seconds which means that he slips to fourth. Instead, Kelderman takes the lead with a 4-second advantage over Henao. He faces a big challenge in tomorrow’s queen stage which is much harder than usual. A total of 8 climbs are on the menu, including a very steep passage of the Ixua climb with 35km to go. Then the riders will tackle another category 2 climb before they head to the bottom of the famous climb to the well-known finish in Arrate. The top comes just 1km from the line and then it’s a fast run down to the finish.


A brutal wall

After yesterday’s lumpy stage, the riders faced a much harder challenge on stage 4 which brought them over 165km from Lesaka to Orio. Having covered the famous Alto de Jaizkibel and Alto de Arkale in the early part of the stage, they headed up the steep Alto de Aia from the easy side at the midpoint but the real challenge came in the finale. Here they first tackled the Alto de Garate before they went back to Aia to go up the climb from its hardest side where it included sections of more than 20%. The final 13.1km were mainly downhill but there was a short 1km climb that summited just 1200m from the downhill run to the line.


Desite the predicted bad weather, it was dry when the 151 remaining riders gathered for the start in Lesaka. Only Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) was absent and stayed at the hotel.


A brutal start

Everyone knew that the stage could be one for the escapees, and therefore it was not surprising that the start of the stage was extremely fast. There were numerous attacks, but when they reached the top of Jaizkibel after 29.4 kilometers of racing, no one had managed to get clear. Stefan Denifl (IAM) strengthened the lead in the mountains competition by being first over the line followed by Diego Rosa (Astana), Carlos Verona (Team Quick Step), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r) and Darwin Atapuma (BMC).


Gianluca Brambilla (Team Quick Step) attacked after the climb, obtaining a lead of 17 seconds after the first hour during which the peloton covered 40.6 kilometers despite fierce headwind and Jaizkibel. He was later joined by Egor Silin (Katusha), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Tim Wellens, Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Diego Rosa (Astana), Rudy Molard (Cofidis), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r), Carlos Verona (Team Quick Step), Stefan Denifl (IAM), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Michael Woods (Cannondale) - a group that had already gone clear at the top. At the same time, the peloton was split into several groups.


A big group goes clear

After 43km of racing, the gap had gone out to 1 minute, and a little later Denifl won the KOM sprint on the Arkale ahead Wellens and Verona. A few kilometers later, Alberto Contador lost his third teammate as Matteo Tossato left the race.


The peloton did not allow this dangerous group to get away and after 55km of fast racing, it was back together. 10km later, a new group with Angel Vicioso (Katusha), Ruben Plaza (Orica-GreenEdge), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), Simone Petilli (Lampre-Merida)m Carlos Verona (Team Quick Step), Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) escaped and after 66km of racing they had built a lead of 30 seconds. Jan Bakelants (Ag2r), Stephen Cummings (Dimension Data), Julien Simon (Cofidis), Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r) and Michael Woods (Cannondale) bridged across and after 75km a 14-rider group had formed.


Six riders escape

The group never got much of an advantage and as they didn’t work well together, Vicioso, Wellens, Petilli, Riblon, Maté and Verona escaped. The rest of the group was caught and the peloton finally slowed down, allowing the gap to go out to 1.40 with 80km to go. The riders had covered 41.2km during a fast second hour where there was a lot of wind.


The gap went out to 2.40 before Sky hit the front with Xabier Zandio and Lars Petter Nordhaug. While the rest of the team gathered behind the pair, they reduced the gap to 2 minutes before they hit the Alto de Aia from the easy side. Mate won the KOM sprint ahead of Riblon, Verona and Petilli.


Sky in control

The situation was completely stable, with Nordhaug and Zandio keeping the gap between 2.30 and 3.00 for several kilometres which allowed Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) and Frank Schleck (Trek) to rejoin the peloton after punctures. When Mate led Petilli and Wellens across the line in the first intermediate sprint with 42km to go, the gap was still 2.35.


The front group hit the Alto de Garate with 38km to go and it was Wellens who attacked right from the bottom. Riblon shut the move down and when the Belgian went again, it was Petilli who made sure that the group stayed together.


Wellens attacks relentlessly

In the peloton, it was a big fight for position until Nordhaug led the bunch onto the ascent. The Norwegian set the pace on the lower slopes, keeping the gap at 2.20.


When Wellens made his third attack, Petilli was distanced due to a puncture and when the Belgian went for the fourth time, it was over for Vicioso. Verona also made a small attempt but the front quartet stayed together. At the top, Mate made a small attack to crest the summit a few metres ahead of Riblon, Wellens and Verona.


Nordhaug sets the pace

Petilli and Vicioso rejoined the front group on the descent but refused to contribute to the work. Meanwhile, Nordhaug was using his final energy, reducing the gap to 1.55 with 25km to go. Mate won the second intermediate sprint ahead of Verona and Wellens.


There was little cooperation in the breakaway and so Wellens tried again on a small climb. However, he was closely marked and the group stayed together until they hit the Wall in Aia where the drama started.



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