A blistering attack from Simon Yates saw him power away from the peloton and breakaway on stage four of the Ruta del Sol to win comfortably, his first success of the 2019 season.
The reigning Vuelta a España champion attacked with 34km to go on the brutal stage in southern Spain, and once he distanced a select group of companions he rode clear to win by 26 seconds from a group of six riders contesting the overall general classification.
Astana’s Jakob Fugslang, second overnight, takes the leader’s jersey from Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), with Yates’s brother Adam advancing up to fifth overall, 57 seconds shy of Fugslang with just one rolling stage to come.
It means that Danish rider Fugslang is on course to win his first overall race since his Critérium du Dauphiné success in 2017.
How it happened
Being the queen stage of the race, there was a rush to get into the day’s breakaway and 13km into the 119km stage one formed and stuck, consisting of some high-profile personnel. Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) and Danny van Poppel (Team Jumbo-Visma) were joined by Carlos Barbero (Movistar), Nikolay Cherkasov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Marco Canola (Nippo Vini Fantini Faizanè) and Alessandro Tonelli (Bardiani-CSF).
They were chased for over 20km by a group of four and they eventually caught on, Cyril Barthe and Sergio Samitier of Euskadi Basque Country – Murias, Jorge Cubero (Burgos-BH) and Txomin Juaristi (Fundacion-Euskadi) teaming up to make the lead group even larger.
On the day’s second climb, Alto del Purche, the race blew up. Many of the break’s riders were unable to keep pace, their lead dropping below a minute. Back in the peloton riders dropped further back, leaving a reduced bunch of around 30 riders.
Samitier maintained his lead out front, sitting 45 seconds ahead of the peloton, but on the climb of Alto de Guejar Cierra, a long 10.1km slog, he was caught by an attack from Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Pello Bilbao (Astana).
For a short while Yates was in a group of 10 climbers, but it wasn’t long before he attacked again, going solo. On the day’s final ascent, Alto de Hazallanas, the Bury-born rider began the 16.2km climb all alone. It was a show of strength for the Mitchelton-Scott team, with Yates also working on behalf of his brother Adam who sat ninth on GC, 64 seconds off the race leader Wellens who was unable to keep pace with the more natural climbers.
Yates continued to accelerate on the climb as he moved towards the summit of the snowy mountain, stretching his lead to over 40 seconds from the chase group that included Adam and teammate Jack Haig, as well as Ion Izagirre of Astana who was 14 seconds adrift of Wellens prior to the stage. Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Bilbao and Sergio Higuita (Fundacion-Euskadi) were also involved.
On familiar roads to him, Yates pushed further on, the chase group behind accepting the Vuelta a Espana winner’s stage win was a formality.
As the race descended into the finish in Granada, the sextet behind Yates didn’t, as some might have expected, attack one another, and they rolled into the finishing town as one.
Yates was able to sit up and celebrate a sensational win when he crossed the line, Higutia bringing up the group of six behind 26 seconds after Yates.
Fugslang goes into the last stage with a slender seven second advantage to Izagirre, but that should be enough given that stage five’s toughest sections all come in the first half of the race.
Ruta del Sol 2019, stage four Armilla to Granada (119km)
1. Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, in 3-01-03
2. Sergio Higuita (Col) Fundacion-Euskadi
3. Steven Kruijswik (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
4. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott
5. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana
6. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, all at 26secs
8. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo
9. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, both at 1-20
10. Hector Carretero (Esp) Movistar, at 2-51
General classification after stage four
1. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 13-43-41
2. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana, at 7secs
3. Steven Kruijswik (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 11secs
4. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Astana, at 21secs
5. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 57secs
6. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-08
7. Sergio Higuita (Col) Fundacion-Euskadi, at 1-12
8. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Gazprom-RusVelo, at 1-43
9. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 2-53
10. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida, at 3-41