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With a perfectly timed acceleration, Valverde passed late attacker Roche and held off Sagan in the tough uphill sprint on stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana; Chaves was 9th and defended his lead

Photo: Movistar Team

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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DANIEL MORENO

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ESTEBAN CHAVES

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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PETER SAGAN

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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25.08.2015 @ 18:16 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) continued his love affair with the Vuelta a Espana when he won a hugely exciting duel against Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) in the tough uphill sprint on stage 4 of the Spanish race. With a perfectly timed acceleration, he managed to catch late attacker Nicolas Roche (Sky) less than 50m from the finish and held off Sagan who did not even try to pass him while Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) finished 9th in the tough finale and defended his lead.

 

A few days ago, Alejandro Valverde was the favourite to win the first uphill finish in the Vuelta a Espana but the Spaniard was not at his best in Caminito del Rey. Unable to respond to the attacks in the finale, he rolled across the line in 8th and people immediately started to question his form.

 

However, there is no reason to worry about Valverde’s chances in the Spanish race after he came out on top in today’s very hard fourth stage of the race. Just like last year, he seems to have needed a few days to get back into the racing rhythm and today he did everything perfectly to hold off Peter Sagan in the tough finale that included a steep 1km climb with a 12% average gradient just 4km from the finish and a steep 500m rise to the finish.

 

However, Valverde also needed a bit of luck as his Movistar team did nothing to chase back the early break and the many attacks on the final climb. Instead, he relied on Tinkoff-Saxo to do the early work while it was the Katusha team that controlled things in the finale where a threatening move almost stole the win.

 

It was a big sprint to get to the bottom of the final climb which made it very disorganized with no team able to take control until Giant-Alpecin proved their great lead-out skills. Zico Waeytens won the battle to lead Lawson Craddock and Tom Dumoulin onto the lower slopes but when he swung off, the group came to a standstill.

 

That was not the plan for Movistar who wanted to make the race hard and so Jose Joaquin Rojas made a violent acceleration. Only Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) and John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) could keep up with him and when the Spaniard swung off, it was the Belgian who pressed on, leaving the German sprinter behind.

 

The peloton was riding very slowly with Sagan on the front and this allowed van der Sande to get a rather big advantage until Katusha finally took over, with Alberto Losada riding on the front. Meanwhile, the steep gradients took their toll on van der Sande who cracked completely and instead Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) sprinted past the fading Belgian.

 

The Spaniard dangled 10 metres ahead of the peloton while Losada continued to set the pace. He had nearly brought the Spaniard back as they reachd the summit but here the Caja Rural rider managed to extend his advantage.

Sagan had dropped a few positions on the climb but used the easier terrain to move back to the front end of the group. Here Samuel Sanchez (BMC) took off and he was quickly joined by Nicolas Roche.

 

The pair passed Bilbao and led as they passed the flamme rouge where Losada still set the pace. As soon as they hit the steep 500m climb to the finish, Sanchez tried to accelerate but it was the Irishman who countered and got an advantage.

 

Rafal Majka tried to do the lead-out for Sagan before Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) made an attack. However, the Portuguese never got a gap and instead he ended up giving Valverde the perfect lead-out.

 

When Roche had an advantage of just 5 metres, the Spaniard launched his sprint. Sagan was glued to his wheel as they sprinted past Roche but didn’t have enough left to even try to come around and had to settle for second. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) narrowly passed Roche to score four important bonus seconds.

 

Esteban Chaves rolled across the line in 9th, 3 seconds behind the first six riders, and that was enough to defend his lead and the 5-second advantage over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). He should get an easier day tomorrow when the riders will tackle a completely flat stage with no categorized climbs and which has a rising finishing straight where the sprinters are expected to battle it out.

 

A tough finale

After yesterday’s sprint stage, the puncheurs were expected to come to the fore in stage 4 which brought the riders over a massive 209.6km from Estepona to Vejer de la Frontera. The terrain was almost completely flat but as the final 60km took place along the coast, nervousness was expected. Furthermore, there was a nasty sting in the tail as the riders would go up a 1km climb with an average gradient of 12% with four kilometres to go before they followed rolling roads to the bottom of the 500m rise to the line.

 

It was another very hot day in Spain when the riders gathered for the start. All riders that finished yesterday’s stage were present as they rolled out for their neutral ride during which there were a few mechanicals.

 

The break is formed

There was no big fight to join the early break as they group went clear right from the gun. Mickael Delage (FDJ), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Nikolas Maes (Etixx-QuickStep), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida) and Markel Irizar (Trek) immediately got an advantage of 30 seconds and it had grown to 1.30 after just 8km of racing.

 

The peloton was in no hurry and so the gap grew rapidly. At the 15km mark, it was 5.30 and it was a massive 13.30 after 30km of racing.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE up the pace

This was the signal for Orica-GreenEDGE to up the pace and they slowly started to reel the break in. The gap was 12.10 at the end of the first hour during which 40.6km had been covered.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE slowly continued to bring the gap down and it was 10.05 at the 71km mark. Twenty kilometres later it was 9.04.

 

Tinkoff-Saxo take control

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) had to stop due to a mechanical before Tinoff-Saxo finally showed their intentions. They took over the pace-setting and at the 100km mark, they had reduced the gap to 7.55.

 

Going through the feed zone, it had been brought down to 7.06 and as the escapes entered the final 90km of a very long stage, their original lead had been more than halved as it was now just 6.10.

 

A big fight for position

Jesper Hansen, Sergio Paulinho, Pawel Poljanski and Jay McCarthy were doing the early work to keep the gap stable around that mark for a while. However, as they approached the city of Cadiz and the coast with 60km to go, it became a big fight for position as everybody was afraid of the wind.

 

With all teams sprinting up next to the Tinkoff-Saxo riders, it was no surprise that the gap was coming down quickly. When Angel Vicioso led the peloton up a bridge for Katusha and Leonardo Duque (Colombia) went down in a small crash, the escapees were only 3.25 ahead.

 

The gap melts away

Tinoff-Saxo briefly got back on the front before Katusha took over with Vladimir Isaychev. Next it was Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo lining up their train before Sky took control with Geraint Thomas. Movistar and Ag2r were also up there and for a while, Sky and Movistar rode side by side on the front, 2.25 behind the escapees.

 

Things calmed down a bit as Movistar took control with Imanol Erviti and Rory Sutherland before Tinkoff-Saxo went back to work. McCarthy, Poljanski, Hansen, Paulinho, Pavel Brutt, Maciej Bodnar and Daniele Bennati all took turns to keep the gap stable around 1.45 as everyone was happy to catch their breath.

 

Van Garderen goes down

Despite the calmer atmosphere, a small crash involved Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Ben King (Cannondale) and Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE) and before he was back on the bike, the BMC rider had already lost 1.10. However, teammates Alessandro De Marchi, Jempy Drucker and Amael Moinard waited for him and they managed to bring him back with 23km to go.

 

TInkoff-Saxo were slowly bring the gap down while Delage led Durasek and Irizar across the line in the intermediate sprint. With 25km to go, it was only 20 seconds and this was the signal for Engoulvent to attack. Irizar joined him while the rest of the group sat up.

 

The break is caught

Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) rejoined the peloton after a puncture while the front duo extended their advantage to 30 seconds. Tinkoff-Saxo kept is stable for several kilometres until they accelerated ad with 11km to go, it was all back together.

 

The fight for position was now violent as Sky moved up next to the Tinkoff riders. Bennati won the battle until Thomas hit the front with 5km to go. From there it was completely disorganized but it was Giant-Alpecin who won the battle and led the group onto the climb where the action unfolded.

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