Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) timed his sprint to perfection to pip Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) to victory on stage four of the Tour of the Basque Country.
The Colombian won by just a tyre-width in Zamudio ahead of the world champion, after the final survivor of the breakaway was caught within the final kilometre. Diego Ulissi (UAE Team Emirates) came in third.
Victor Lafay (Cofidis) looked like he might survive all the way to the finish after he attacked on the final climb of the day, but his gap quickly came down in the final 10km run in to the finish.
There was little change in the overall classification, with Primož Roglič holding on to the race lead heading into the final two stages.
The bonus seconds gained by Martínez meant he jumped up to the overall podium in third, joining Roglič and Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl).
How it happened
It is always a hilly day in the Basque Country, and Thursday’s stage four was no exception. Despite only 2700m of elevation - yes, only - this was bound to be a tough day for the peloton and for the general classification leaders.
The riders rolled out of Vitoria-Gasteiz, the capital of the Basque Country, heading north to Zamudio. There was an early attempt to form a breakaway by a pair of Frenchman, as Fabien Doubay (TotalEnergies) and Julien Bernard (Trek - Segafredo) moved clear from the peloton.
The duo only lasted about three kilometres but were then swallowed by the bunch. However, soon after, a giant group of 15 made a move with 169km to go with, which set the tone for the day.
The 15 were: Cristián Rodríguez (TotalEnergies), Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Victor Lafay (Cofidis), Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), Mauri Vansevenant (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education-EasyPost), Tsgabu Grmay (BikeExchange-Jayco), Rubén Fernández (Cofidis), Mark Donovan (DSM), Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Óscar Rodríguez (Movistar), Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates), Mikel Iturria (Euskadi-Euskaltel), Pascal Eenkhorn (Jumbo-Visma), and Felix Grossschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The group included multiple powerful climbers, with former Tour de France winner Thomas among their number, as well as other grand tour stage winners.
Eenkhorn was the first to be dropped from the front group group, but the remaining fourteen continued to forge a gap.
Rodríguez of TotalEnergies was already in the king of the mountain’s jersey, but reinforced his lead by capturing points on the categorised climbs of the day.
The time gap grew to almost four minutes at times, but with such a large group, it was going to prove difficult for the peloton to bring them back. With 56km to go Grbay attempted a move on the descent from Jata.
He was caught shortly afterwards. In his wake, Thomas, Armirail, Lafay and Guerreiro broke clear of the remainder of the break, working together with 39km to go. After hard work on the climb and descent of Alto de Urruztimendi, the quartet were joined by Formolo, Vansevenant, and Iturria, although the effort they made to get back on soon paid.
On the climb to Vivero, Lafay attacked and dropped the other riders from the break, which would end their day out in the front of the race.
While he focused on maintaining his lead and establishing a big enough gap to the peloton, there were multiple attacks in the peloton behind. Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo) attempted something first, but could not make it stick.
This move was followed by efforts by leading riders to escape the peloton. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) powered through a storm drain on the climb, going clear with Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) with 20km to go.
None of these moves were able to stick, however, with Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) among the riders trying something, but at no point did the elastic look like snapping.
One big casualty of the day was Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies) who crashed on the descent, looking seriously in pain.
With 5km to go, Lafay still had about 40 seconds over the remainder of the peloton, and it was really touch and go for the Frenchman. Behind, UAE Team Emirates were the only squad with enough numbers to try and bring him back; they were going so much faster than the lone leader, however, and the time gap kept coming down.
Some of the riders from the break remained in the peloton to help their leaders, including Thomas, and Vansevenant, who gave everything for Evenepoel and Alaphilippe.
Lafay’s lead was down to five seconds into the final kilometre, and his dream was dead. It was Evenpoel who put the power down to ensure that Lafay was caught.
In the final 200m Martínez pushed himself to the finish with a stinging attack. While Alaphilippe looked like he was coming back, the Colombian won stage four by just a whisker.
There was little change in the overall classification, with Primož Roglič hanging onto the race leader’s jersey once more.
Tour of the Basque Country 2022, stage four: Vitoria-Gasteiz to Zamudio (185.6km)
1. Daniel Felipe Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-15-23
2. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl
3. Diego Ulissi (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
4. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo Visma
5. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious
6. Orluis Aular (Col) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
7. Ruben Guerreiro (Por) EF Education-EasyPost
8. Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
9. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Bora-Hansgrohe
10. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, all at same time
General classification after stage four
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo Visma
2. Remco Evenepoel (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, at 5s
3. Daniel Felipe Martínez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 11s
4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 14s
5. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 18s
6. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 19s
7. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo Visma, at same time
8. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Cofidis, at 20s
9. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, at 22s
10. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 32s
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