Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) sprinted to his second stage victory of the 2016 Volta ao Algarve as Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) made retained second behind overall leader Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep).
After two early categorised climbs on the 194km stage, the race always seemed destined to finish in a bunch sprint as breakaways early and late were never allowed to gain much more than a couple of minutes over the peloton, as Etixx in particular looked to protect their overall lead and set things up for Kittel.
André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), Kittel’s main sprint rival at the race, suffered a fall earlier in the day and despite making it back to the main bunch, failed to contest the sprint and rolled across the line in 148th place, 53 seconds back.
Instead, Cannondale’s Dutch sprinter Wouter Wippert was the main rival to the German, but neither he nor Greipel’s teammate Jens Debusschere, who finished third, could do anything to stop Kittel as he rampaged across the line a second ahead.
The win continues the Etixx sprinter’s fine form in the early season, after a tumultuous season in 2015, having already won the overall title at the Dubai Tour earlier this month.
The ferocious at the end of the stage saw several small gaps appear amongst the peloton, with Britain’s Thomas finishing narrowly ahead of yellow jersey Martin as his teammate Salvatore Puccio lead him across the line.
It’s all set up nicely for a GC showdown on the climax to the race and the summit finish of the 169km final stage, which will see Martin try to hold on to his lead with Thomas gunning for a second consecutive title.
Volta ao Algarve stage four, S. Brás de Alportel – Tavira (194km):
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Etixx-QuickStep, in 4-46-35
2. Wouter Wippert (Ned) Cannondale, at 1 secong
3. Jens Debusschere (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
4. Jonas van Genechten (Bel) IAM Cycling
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Esp) Movistar, all same time
19. Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky, at 6 secs
20. Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx-QuickStep, at 7 secs
21. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff, at 12 secs
1. Tony Martin (Ger) Etixx-QuickStep, in 14-08-57
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, at 3 secs
3. Ion Izaguirre (Esp) Movistar, at 20 secs
4. Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Soudal, at 41 secs
5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, at 47 secs
6. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 52 secs
7. Tiago Machado (Por) Katusha, at 59 secs
8. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha, at 1-04
9. Jarlinson Pantano (Col) IAM Cycling, at 1-05
10. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff, at 1-07