Fabio Jakobsen wins by the closest of margins
When Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) and Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) both lunged for the line in the sprint to the finish, neither rider was sure who had won it.
A tense few minutes followed, before a photo finished revealed Jakobsen to be the winner by the very narrowest of margins.
The result is a first Grand Tour stage win by a rider competing in his first Grand Tour. Having been forced to use up lots of energy yesterday chasing back up to the peloton after being dropped earlier in the day, the young Dutchman enjoyed the easier parcours and was fresh for the finishing sprint.
Despite his young age and inexperience, the result wont have come as a surprise to anyone who has watched Jakobsen closely over these past few years. After making a name for himself at under-23 level with national road titles and a stage win at the Tour de l’Avenir, he made a successful step up to WorldTour level in 2018 with big wins in races like Scheldeprijs , and has gone from strength to strength this season with a repeat Scheldeprijs victory, stage wins at races like the Tours of California and Turkey, and the Dutch National Championships.
Roundabout error costs Bennett
Given his superior sprinting speed over all of his rivals, it seemed that Sam Bennett would have to make a mistake in order to not win the stage, and that’s exactly what happened.
Heading into a roundabout about 1km from the finish, Bennett took the longer way around, and consequently lost his teammate’s wheel and his ideal position near the front of the peloton.
That left the Irishman with more ground to make up in the finale, while Jakobsen adopted the ideal position of being second place on the finishing straight behind lead-out man Max Richeze.
Bennett still produced some speed in the sprint, and a lunge to the line brought him to within millimetres of victory, but the earlier mistake ultimately cost him a second successive stage victory.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step mix up their tactics
We’re used to seeing Deceuninck – Quick-Step pull off perfect lead-outs by leaving it late to take to the front of the peloton, then delivering their sprinter to the line in the final few hundred metres.
But on stage four they mixed things up with a different approach, sending a rider up the road with a late attack 6km from the finish.
They’ve certainly got the personnel to attempt such moves, with Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Štybar among the select few capable of outpacing a speeding peloton during the hectic final few kilometres of a sprinter’s stage.
But it was actually the youngster Rémi Cavagna who made the move, doing an impressive job of opening a lead of a handful of seconds, and forcing the team’s rivals to chase him.
Although he was caught with just over 1km left to ride, Jakobsen and his lead-out man Richeze were poised to take over and moved to the front of the peloton at just the right time to pull off the stage victory. It was another tactical masterclass from Deceuninck – Quick-Step, albeit an unfamiliar one.
Steven Kruijswijk abandons
Stage four saw just the second abandonment of the Vuelta, and it was one of the biggest names in the race – last year’s fourth place overall, Steven Kruijswijk.
His Jumbo-Visma team explained that the Dutchman had been struggling with a knee injury sustained in the crash that disrupted the team during the opening day team time trial, which became bad enough for him to leave the race altogether.
That injury goes some way to explaining Kruijswijk’s disappointing ride on stage two, where he finished in a group behind the top favourites and lost 1-43 to stage winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Kruijswijk will be sorely missed by Jumbo-Visma. He is a remarkably consistent rider, who has finished in the top five in each of his past three Grand Tours, and the original plan would likely have been for both him and Primož Roglič to target the GC.
Even if his excursions at the Tour de France last month might have made another GC bid a tall order, Kruijswijk would still likely have made for an invaluable super-domestique in the high mountains.
Jumbo-Visma still boast a very strong line-up, with the likes of George Bennett, Robert Gesink and Sepp Kuss, but losing a rider of such a high calibre will still have a significant effect on how the overall classification will play out.
Fears of storms alleviated
There are few things less welcome by the peloton on an expected straightforward day like stage four than adverse weather.
But with thunderstorms forecast and indeed dark clouds hovered over the horizon for much of the day, things didn’t look promising.
Fortunately, however, when the storm did come it only lasted a brief amount of time. The riders got wet climbing the modest Puerto del Oronet two thirds into the stage, but were spared the tension of a nervous wet descent when the rain eased off before they reached the summit.
There was one significant crash earlier in the day unrelated to the weather, when Rigoberto Urán hurt his wrist upon falling with a few of his EF Education First teammates.
But it could have been a whole lot worse has the weather turned out differently.