Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) timed his chase to perfection as he hunted down Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) in the final 200m of a steep summit finish of stage four of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
Yates had been in an aggressive mood on the queen stage of the race, first counter-attacking to chase down Amaro Antunes (CCC Sprandi Polkowice) with three kilometres remaining, before launching a bid for victory on the double-digit gradients of the final kilometre.
The Mitchelton-Scott rider had a decent-sized gap, but this was a finish made for Valverde, and the race leader timed his move to perfection, jumping out of the chasing group to catch Yates with 150m to go and going straight over the top to take the stage win.
Yates held on for second ahead of Luis-Leon Sanchez (Astana), while Valverde extended his overall lead ahead of the final stage on Sunday.
How it happened
A six-strong breakaway finally went up the road after 65km of the stage, with three WorldTour representatives in the move: Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky), Reto Hollenstein (Katusha), Cristian Rodríguez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Hector Sáez (Euskadi-Murias), Juan Camacho (Polartec-Kometa) and Ion Insausti (Fundacion Euskadi).
Those six riders drew out a lead of a little more than three minutes as Movistar controlled the front of the bunch for Alejandro Valverde for much of the day.
However with 58km to go the pace wasn’t high enough to prevent an attack by Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) who steadily made his way across the gap to bridge across to the leaders.
But the gap to the front of the race had come down, and as the race approached the penultimate climb of the day the gap was below a minute for the first time in a while.
With 20km remaining it was Astana who went to the front of the peloton en masse, attempting to blow the race to pieces but with Valverde safely sitting close to the front of the bunch. The move came to nothing, but acceleration meant that the gap to the break was down to just 15 seconds by the top of the climb as only Kwiatkowski, Hollenstein, and Rodríguez remained out in front.
However that trio were joined by a counter-attack from the bunch as Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First-Drapac), and Cyril Gautier (Ag2r La Mondiale), although Visconti didn’t stick around for long as he accelerated over the top of the front group with Kwiatkowski locked in his wheel.
By the time the final climb started with five kilometres remaining Kwiatkowski had been dropped and Visconti was just 10 seconds off the front of the bunch, Astana still leading the chase.
As the gradient started to bite it was BMC Racing who took over at the front of the peloton, with the catch made with three kilometres remaining, before Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) launched the first move to line things out and thin the bunch down to just six riders at the front of affairs.
The next attack was from CCC Sprandi Polkowice rider Amaro Antunes who opened a small gap over the more illustrious riders in the front group, prompting a counter-attack by Adam Yates to pull him back.
By the flamme rouge the group had swelled as riders regained contact from behind as Yates attacked once again. As the gradient ramped up to more than 15 per cent Yates’s cadence started to drop and so did his advantage as Valverde stalked him behind.
And with 300m the Spaniard counter-attacked, clawing his way back onto the Brit’s wheel, and then attacking again with 150m to take the stage win and set up overall victory.
The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana concludes with a flat final stage from Paterna to Valencia on Sunday.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2018, stage four: Orihuela to Cocentaina, 181km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 4-48-35
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 4 secs
3. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, at 5 secs
4. Jesus Herrada (Esp) Cofidis, at 9 secs
5. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 10 secs
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 11 secs
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at 15 secs
8. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Mitchelton-Scott, at 18 secs
9. Kilian Frankiny (Swi) BMC Racing, at 24 secs
10. Ben Hermans (Bel) Israel Cycling Academy, at 30 secs
General classification after stage four
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp)
2. Luis-Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana
3. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana