Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) won stage four of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana with a powerful attack on a horribly steep climb to the finish.
The Slovenian made his move 3km from the top just as the final man from the day’s break, Greg Van Avermaet (CCC), was caught by the peloton.
Finishing six seconds ahead of a four-man chasing group of other GC contenders, Pogačar inherits the lead he lost yesterday to Jack Haig (Mitchelton-Scott).
Haig was a part of that chasing group along with Wout Poels (Bahrain-McLaren), Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) and Tao Geoghegen Hart (Ineos). Both Martin and Poels had made efforts on the climb to set off in pursuit of Pogačar alone, but neither were successful, and all four ultimately staggered over the line together.
Pogačar now holds a six-second lead over Haig and Hart on the GC, with just tomorrow’s final stage to Valencia left to ride. Expected to be a straightforward bunch sprint, Pogačar should be able to survive comfortably and complete the overall victory.
How it happened
This 170km stage was always expected to be the key day in the race for overall victory at the 2020 Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, and so it proved.
With seven riders all tied at the top of the GC, it was also a wide-open race, and one with a fittingly spectacular final climb for them to duke it out against each other.
The Sierra de Bernia climb is comfortably the toughest finish in the whole race, with gradients that tilted over 20% at its most excruciating points.
Before that showpiece, however, the riders had several more climbs to negotiate towards the beginning of the stage.
A group of six riders broke clear at the start of the day. They were: Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-McLaren), Tim Declerq (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Gonzalo Serrano (Cafe Rural-Seguros RGA), Giovani Carboni (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane), Greg Van Avermaet and Nathan van Hooydonck (both CCC).
Van Avermaet was the star name in the group, and, with a teammate to help him out and ensure the others didn’t lean solely on him to set the pace, looked in a very good position to potentially contest the stage.
Over the climbs, Serrano showed most intent to gain points in the mountains classification, while the break’s gap back to the peloton remained fairly steady between three and two minutes.
After the third climb was crested, the gap started to fall, with Mitchelton-Scott doing much of the work at the front of the peloton for race leader Jack Haig.
The break also upped the pace as the decisive finishing climb approached, evidenced by Carboni being dropped 18km from the line.
However, their efforts weren’t enough to prevent the inevitable. With 20km to go the gap had dipped to just over one minute, and continued to tumble until it had diminished to just thirty seconds at the foot of Sierra de Bernia.
Declerq had still not given up the ghost, taking to the front of the race and dropping all the others apart from Van Avermaet and Bilbao.
The first instance of an especially steep ramp then saw Van Avermaet ride away from the other two, and the Belgian opted to press on, desperate to hold on with the approaching peloton now able to just about see him up the road.
At this point, the peloton itself was breaking up, with multiple riders being shelled out of the back due to the pace set by Ineos.
With 3km to go Bilbao was caught, leaving just Van Avermaet up ahead.
His days too were numbered, however, and the gap was finally bridged once Pogačar made his move, using Van Avermaet as a sling-shot to fire himself up the road.
That attack caused the bunch to split to pieces, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) a surprising name to be dropped.
Poels, Hart, Martin and Haig all road impressively to finish second, third, fourth and fifth respectively, but Pogačar was another level to them today.
The final stage five of the Spanish race features a fairly flat 97.7km course into Valencia should see Pogačar crowned the overall victor, with Dylan Groenewegen (Jumbo-Visma) afforded an opportunity to take a third stage win.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2020, stage four: Calp to Altea (Sierra de Bernia) (170km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 4-22-03
2. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain-McLaren, at 6 seconds
3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Ineos
4. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation
5. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
6. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-McLaren, at 23s
7. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana, at 32s
8. Sander Armée (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 42s
9. Óscar Rodríguez (Esp) Astana, at 45s
10. Rubén Fernández (Esp) Fundación-Orbea, at 49s
General classification after stage four
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 16-38-28
2. Jack Haig (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott, at 6 seconds
3. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Team Ineos, at same time
4. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 13s
5. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-McLaren, at 23s
6. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain-McLaren, at 25s
7. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana, at 32s
8. Rubén Fernández (Esp) Fundación-Orbea, at 49s
9. Óscar Rodríguez (Esp) Astana, at 1-11
10. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 1-14