Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took victory on the summit finish of stage four of the Volta a Catalunya to retake the race lead in a day of attacking racing.
Having won in a reduced bunch sprint on stage two, Valverde was on a mission in very different terrain to retake the race lead that he had lost to Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) on Wednesday.
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Attacking racing meant no breakaway was able to establish itself until Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) went clear along after 80km, but when he was caught it all came down to the final climb of the day to La Molina.
Movistar dominated the final climb, with Valverde, Nairo Quintana, and Marc Soler all putting in numerous accelerations to slim the group down, with only Egan Bernal (Team Sky) able to stay with Valverde and Quintana to the end.
And it was Bernal who took the initiative with 500m to go to drop Quintana, but there was little he could do to shake Valverde who duly moved out of his wheel with 150m to go to cross the line for his second stage win of the race, and also move back into the overall lead.
How it happened
The early kilometres of stage four of the Volta a Catalunya saw an aggressive start with no riders able to form a breakaway in the first half of the stage, before Esteban Chaves was finally able to get away after more than 80km of the 170km stage.
Meanwhile race leader Thomas De Gendt was dropped on the first category climb of the Port d’El Jour midway through the stage, before the main obstacle of the day: the giant 21km climb of Coll de la Creueta.
Chaves’s gap held steady at around 1-20 for the length of the climb, before Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) and then Alejandro Valverde set off in pursuit.
Mohoric caught and passed Chaves on the descent, while Valverde caught the Colombian before being caught by the peloton himself, meaning that Mohoric was alone at the front of the race as he started to climb La Molina with a lead of just under a minute.
It didn’t take long for the attacks to start, with Marc Soler (Movistar) launching the first move out of the peloton with 12km to go, being followed by Pierre Latour (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Samsic).
George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac), Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Egan Bernal (Team Sky) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) all rode their way across as Mohoric was caught, before Soler moved to the front to raise the pace and thin the group down once again.
Soler seemed to working for Quintana and Valverde, but then launched an attack of his own with only Latour making the decision to follow but finding Valverde locked in his wheel. Those three were then joined by Bernal and Quintana to form a five-strong front group, with three Movistar riders present.
The main part of the climb was crested with 5.5km to go as Soler was dropped, before LaTour started to yo-you off the back as Quintana raised the pace on the next rise in the road a kilometres later.
It was therefore the Movistar duo of Quintana and Movistar alongside Bernal as they passed under the flamme rouge, with Bernal moving to the front in the final 500m to drop Quintana.
However Valverde was locked in the the Team Sky rider’s wheel, and duly came out of the slipstream with 150m to go to take teh stage win and retake the race lead.
Volta a Catalunya 2018, stage four: Llanars to La Molina, 170.8km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 4-25-54
2. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, at same time
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 6 secs
4. Pierre Latour (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 23 secs
5. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 53 secs
6. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at same time
7. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at same time
8. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education First-Drapac, at 59 secs
9. Daniel Martinez (Col) EF Education First-Drapac, at 1-03
10. Ben Hermans (Bel) Israel Cycling Academy, at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, in 17-00-58
2. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, at 19 secs
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 26 secs
4. Pierre Latour (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 48 secs
5. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-12
6. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-14
7. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 1-18
8. George Bennett (NZl) LottoNL-Jumbo, at same time
9. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education First-Drapac, at 1-24
10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-28