Ben King (Dimension Data) took his maiden Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta a España 2018 stage four, beating Nikita Salnov (Astana) to victory in a two-up sprint from the breakaway on the summit finish to Puerto de Alfacar.
The American had broken away from the day’s main break just ahead of the final climb along with Salnov, and the pair worked well together up the climb before entering the final kilometre.
From there, King simply sat on the Kazakh’s wheel and waited until the final 200m, when he launched a powerful sprint to the line which couldn’t be matched by Salnov.
King was able to celebrate across the line, and take a hard earned victory on the Vuelta’s first summit finish.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) retained the overall lead, but saw his deficit cut to seven seconds, with Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) jumping into second and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) moving into third after they attacked from the main group of GC contenders.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) slipped from second to fourth overall, but took two seconds out of Kwiatkowski towards the line to sit at 12 seconds back.
How it happened
The riders of the Vuelta peloton faced their first summit finish on another hot day in southern Spain. With two first category climbs on the cards over 161.4km, it was no surprise that the GC contenders were happy to let a sizeable group get away early on with nine riders going up the road.
That breakaway group, including Ben King (Dimension Data), Nikita Salnov (Astana), Pierre Rolland (EF Education First-Drapac), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal), Lars Boom (LottoNL-Jumbo), Oscar Cabedo Carda (Burgos BH), Aritz Bagues (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias) and Ben Gastauer (Ag2r La Mondiale), steadily grew their advantage over a calm Team Sky led peloton, reaching nine minutes with just under 60km to go.
With the breakaway now almost certain to contest the win between them, it didn’t take long past the the 50km mark for riders to begin trying their luck getting away. Lotto-Soudal’s Jelle Wallays was the first to try, with the other breakers not keen on letting him get out on his own.
The break then settled down to work together again towards the final climb, gradually lifting their lead to a maximum gap of 9-50. That was until Wallays gave it a second go, attacking again with 32km to go but unable to stay away.
Into the closing 20km, the attacks began to come more frequent, and eventually Wallays and King were able to get away with Stalnov joining them with 16km remaining.
They managed to quickly gain a 20 second gap, before extending that out to over 40 seconds on to the final 12.4km climb of Puerto de Alfacar.
Wallays immediately struggled to match the pace of King and Stalnov, while further behind, Movistar began to ramp up the pace of the peloton.
Pierre Rolland attacked from the second group shortly into the climb, quickly bridging to the flagging Wallays before attacking again and struggling to make it up to the front pair.
In the peloton, LottoNL-Jumbo drove the pace on the early slopes, with no attacks coming from the contenders.
Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was the first of the contenders to attack with just over 5.5km to go, stretching the main GC group and putting in a gap of 17 seconds.
Up front, King and Stalnov entered the final kilometre together with the American sitting behind the Kazakh. As they slowed, Rolland almost looked like he would catch back up, but as they hit the final 200m, King launched his sprint around Stalnov and gapped him immediately, leaving the Dimension Data man to celebrate his first Grand Tour stage victory.
Behind, Yates was able to hold on to take a 27 seconds advantage over the Kwiatkowski group across the line, with Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann the only rider able to get close to him.
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Alejandro Valverde small gaps between themselves and race leader Michal Kwiatkowski, with the Pole leading in the other contenders.
The Vuelta a España continues on Wednesday with stage five, a 188.7km stage from Granada to Roquetas de Mar, with a category two climb to conquer close to the finish.
Vuelta a España 2018, stage four: Vélez-Málaga – Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara (161.4km)
1 Benjamin King (USA) Dimension Data, in 4-33-12
2 Nikita Stalnov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team, at 2s
3 Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac, at 13s
4 Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, at 1-08
5 Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1-39
6 Jelle Wallays (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 1-57
7 Oscar Cabedo Carda (Esp) Burgos BH, at 2-24
8 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 2-48
9 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2-50
10 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team, at 3-07
12 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 3-13
13 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at 3-15
Overall classification after stage four
1 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, in 13-47-19
2 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 7s
3 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 10s
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team, at 12s
5 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 25s
6 Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida, at 30s
7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 33s
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, at same time
9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 37s
10 Enric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step Floors, at 42s