Primož Roglič takes red jersey as the general classification battle gets underway
Following three stages in the Netherlands and a rest day, the 2022 Vuelta a España started its three-week Spanish adventure in the Basque Country, with a 152km ride from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Laguardia.
Jumbo-Visma shared the leader's red jersey between themselves over the opening stages, with Edoardo Affini, Mike Teunissen and Robert Gessink all taking the overall lead of the race. The Dutch squad will remain in control of the lead of the race, though it seems they'll unlikely attempt to share the jersey around anymore as Primož Roglič goes into the lead after winning stage four.
The introduction of climbing put paid to anymore sharing, with the sharp pace over the hills dropping plenty of riders from the main bunch. The main GC contenders were all there come the conclusion of the stage, and, despite Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl riders Julian Alaphilippe and Remco Evenepoel trying their best to firstly halt the progress of Roglič, and then attack him as well, the Slovenian simply proved too powerful.
Roglič also picked up 13 bonus seconds by crossing the summit of the final climb first and by winning the stage, crucial seconds that places him in an even stronger position for the rest of the race.
Tougher tests will come over the next few days, but after having his mettle tested, Roglič answered the questions and ultimately struck the first blow.
Climbing eased back in as the race is welcomed back to Spain
The first stage of this year's Vuelta on Spanish soil, stage four featured the first offering of proper climbing of the race as the peloton completed one of two days in the Basque Country.
With one category two and a single category three climb across a lumpy parcours, stage four eased the riders into the climbing ahead of a much more difficult upcoming week. Indeed, all five remaining stages of this week present plenty of ascending, with the mountainous stage six set to shake up the GC with a brutal summit finish to Pico Jano coming after two heavy climbs earlier on in the day.
Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi) set his stall out early by joining the day's breakaway on stage four, attacking on both categorised climbs in a bid for the mountains classification. The Spaniard summited the Puerto de Poakua first, but once the peloton had caught up, he couldn't take the maximum points on the Puerto de Herrera, which came within the final 15km of the day.
Instead, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) took the points there, after Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) attacked on what seemed like an early challenge for the stage win. Regardless, the climbing on stage four offered an early taste of the potential drama that is to come in the upcoming days.
Trek-Segafredo came agonisingly close to a stage win
Trek-Segafredo's tactics were nearly executed to perfection, and they would have been, if it wasn't for a flying Slovenian ruining all their fun.
After a relatively quiet day from the US-based squad, it seemed like their lead sprinter Mads Pedersen was almost forgotten about. That is, until the final kilometre when his teammate Kenny Eilssonde led Pedersen past the other riders on the approach to the finish line. Elissonde continued to do a stellar job on the sharp incline, until eventually letting Pedersen take the mantle over and sprint for home.
Roglič managed to overtake Pedersen into the left-hand turn a couple of hundred metres from the end, but the Dane fought back as he gradually closed the distance to the Jumbo-Visma rider. While he had to ultimately settle for second, the stage showed Trek-Segafredo had nearly formulated a winning plan for Pedersen, and is further highlighted by the fact he is the only primarily fast-man in the top ten.
Ethan Hayter resembles Geraint Thomas
Seemingly struggling as he approached the summit of the final climb, Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers) looked like he couldn't keep up with the peloton during the ascent. Riding at the back without any impetus, Hayter hung back and bided his time while wearing the white young classification leader's jersey.
This all proved part of his and Ineos Grenadiers' plan, though - straight out of the Geraint Thomas handbook of riding to a set power and intensity. Indeed, Hayter comfortably turned his pedals during the climb, staying out of trouble and confident he would get an opportunity to get back towards the front.
This came to fruition when he got towards the front of the pack as the stage entered its final kilometre. He stuck with Roglič for as long as he could, and ultimately ended up finishing seventh, a strong performance which moves him up to third on GC, 26 seconds behind the leader.
Where was Julian Alaphilippe?
A pre-stage favourite, Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) played the team role as best he could by attempting to attack for the bonus seconds at the summit of the climb 15km from the finish. Despite Roglič taking maximum points here, it seemed the Frenchman would undoubtedly be in contention to challenge for the stage win over a parcours which suits his riding style.
However, the world champion was nowhere to be seen in the final kilometre. As the race headed up an incline for the final portion, all of the riders initially tipped to challenge for the stage were preparing to launch their attacks.
Everyone that is, except Alaphilippe. Ultimately he ended up in 51st place on the stage and 28 seconds behind Roglič, completely off the pace of the final kick produced by the stage contenders. Perhaps down to his lack of race sharpness due to minimal racing since his Liège–Bastogne–Liège crash, Alaphilippe will certainly be disappointed he couldn't at least challenge for a podium.
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Ryan is a staff writer for Cycling Weekly, having joined the team in September 2021. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before making his way to cycling. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer.