Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) won stage four of the Ruta del Sol, Vuelta Ciclista a Andalucía in Spain on Saturday to take the overall race lead.
Wellens joined Mikel Landa (Movistar) on the vicious rough, cobbled finishing climb to Alcalá de los Gazules to open a gap on their rivals. Ultimately, Landa couldn't match Wellens' experience on the cobbles in the finale of the punchy climb, and had to settle for second.
Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) came in for third place. Wout Poels (Team Sky) finished in fourth spot, but it was not enough to stop Wellens from relieving him of the overall race lead with just the final time trial remaining. Poels slips to third place overall as Landa rises to second behind Wellens.
How it happened
A large 13-rider escape group went clear after a fast-paced opening hour after the start in Sevilla, consisting of Imanol Erviti (Movistar), James Shaw (Lotto-Soudal), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac), Julien Duval (Ag2r), Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie), Delio Fernández (Delko Marseille Provence KTM), Lukasz Owsian (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Coen Vermeltfoort (Roompot Nederlandse Loterij), Huub Duijn (Vérandas Willems-Crelan), Jesus Ezquerra (Burgos-BH) and Kyle Murphy (Rally Cycling).
The sizeable 1200-metre climb of Puerto de las Palomas followed by the Puerto del Boya punctuated the stage mid-way, and served to break up the racing.
The escape group fractured with the two Wanty riders, Martin and Minnaard, attacking off the front near the foot of the first ascent.
They were later joined by Vanmarcke, and Movistar duo Hector Carretero and Andrey Amador, who had attacked from the peloton after their team had set a blistering pace.
Amador and Vanmarcke then forged ahead on the long descent, opening up a gap of a minute over Carretero and two and a half minutes over the chasing bunch.
Off the descent and into the final 50km a chase was set up, with Vanmarcke and Amador riding a two-up time trial, attempting to keep away from the clutches of the peloton led by Team Sky and Astana.
With 20km to go, the gap had been reduced to a minute but the duo were working well together and managed to hold the gap for the following 10km.
However, inside the final 5km the peloton stepped up the pace, with Amador and Vanmarcke only left with a handful of seconds over the chasers.
Chris Froome was one of several riders to catch a puncture on the rough roads in the final 5km, and was forced to chase back on through the team cars.
Right before the start of the final climb, Vanmarcke and Amador were caught.
Landa was then one of the first riders to move to the front, and was joined by Wellens. The two looked to be in a class of their own on the climb as others struggled on the constantly-changing surface and series of tight switchbacks.
Into the final 500 metres, Wellens had the measure of Landa and came across the line with time to spare for a celebration.
The 2018 Ruta del Sol concludes on Sunday with the final stage, a decisive individual time trial around Barbate. The flat 14.2-kilometre course should suit the pure time triallists and power riders, and could see some significant alterations in the general classification.
Froome has said that he will 'empty the tank' during the time trial, and figures as one of the favourites for the stage win.
Ruta del Sol 2018, stage four: Sevilla to Alcalá de los Gazules, 191.2km
1. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, in 4-36-23
2. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 5 secs
3. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 12 secs
4. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 13 secs
5. Floris De Tier (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo, at same time
6. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 17 secs
7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 20 secs
8. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, at same time
9. Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First-Drapac, at 21 secs
10. Andrea Pasqualon (Ita) Wanty Groupe Gobert, at 24 secs
General classification after stage four
1. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, in 17-24-25
2. Mikel Landa (Esp) Movistar, at 7 secs
3. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 11 secs
4. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 14 secs
5. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, at 20 secs
6. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 32 secs
7. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 58 secs
8. Simon Clarke (Aus) EF Education First-Drapac, at 1-05
9. Mikel Bizkarra (Esp) Euskadi Basque Country, at 1-14
10. Sergio Pardilla (Esp) Caja Rural, at 1-24
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