Alejandro Valverde pipped Peter Sagan to win stage four of the Vuelta a Espana. Here's what got us talking
What does Valverde’s win tell us about the Movistar leadership situation?
But does the fact that the Spaniard was allowed to go for the win on stage four shed any light on what is actually going on in the team?
If Valverde is the favoured rider for the general classification, would the team have let him expend the energy to power up the final climb and go for the win?
The answer, given that Quintana finished just three seconds behind him, is probably yes, but targeting stage wins could mean that he’s reluctantly accepting that Quintana will end up racing for the overall win.
Peter Sagan’s back to finishing second
Talk before the stage was that this finish would suit Peter Sagan, with a ‘short’ climb to the finish before a punchy sprint to the line. In reality the Tinkoff-Saxo sprinter performed amazingly well to be anywhere near the front at the end, given the steepness of the climb.
The top 50 in the stage standings read as a who’s who of the best climbers in the race, but Sagan stands out as the only sprinter – if we can even call him that these days.
It’s got to the point where you’re never shocked at what he manages to do on a bike – he showed in the Tour that he can get out in a breakaway, descend like a demon, keep up with the big boys in the mountains when he wants to and sprint for the line.
Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t quite repeat his winning feat of Monday and returned to his normal position of second place. But this is a second place to be celebrated.
Nicolas Roche really wants a stage win
Like on Sunday, if the stage was 200m shorter, Roche would have won it as he led the race at that point both times, but the effort to get into that position turned out to be a little too much and he flagged towards the end.
This time he narrowly missed out on third place by allowing Dani Moreno to sneak through on the inside on the line but at one point he looked as if he had enough to hold on for the win.
But any time you’ve got the likes of Sagan and Valverde chasing you down it’s not as easy as just ‘holding on’.
The final four kilometres were mental
Race organisers just love throwing in some massive obstacles in the last kilometres of a relatively innocuous stage. This was no different with a savage climb with four kilometres to go which left the peloton strung out along the narrow roads Vejer de la Frontera.
One Movistar rider turned the corner into the climb and absolutely smashed it…for about 500m before blowing up and sheepishly falling to the side of the road to be spat out the back of the pack.
Lotto-Soudal‘s Tosh Van Der Sande was next to have a pop and lasted only slightly longer before dropping back, at which point Caja Rural’s Pello Bilbao went off the front.
The climb wasn’t so much long, but relentlessly steep allowing enough time for Bilbao to be caught by Sammy Sanchez (BMC) and then he gave the lead to Roche.
Not only was it ludicrously steep – hitting 18 per cent in places – the roads were very narrow, full of road furniture and containing plenty of sharp corners to add to the stress.
It leads to an exciting conclusion, but the riders must be wishing that just once in a while there’s a straight forward stage for them to enjoy?
The combativity award winner was a bit undeserving
For his attack in the last 100m, Valverde was adjudged to be the most combative rider on the stage, which was a little unfair on the six riders who worked hard in the breakaway all day.
Markel Irizar (Trek), Mikael Delage (FDJ), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), Nikolas Maes (Etixx-Quick-Step), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) worked hard in the first 40km to get the breakaway up to 13 minutes.
But no, their hard work wasn’t good enough for the judges – whoever they are – who decided that the Spanish champion deserved the few hundred Francs prize money for his ‘aggressiveness’.