Wout Poels won his first race since 2019 after pipping Alexey Lutsenko in the two-up sprint finish of stage four at the Ruta del Sol.
The Dutchman and the Astana Qazaqstan man broke away in the closing kilometres, holding off the chase group to contest the win between themselves. Poels led from the front inside the final kilometre and held off Lutsenko's charge to seal the victory for Bahrain-Victorious.
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl's Mauri Vansevenant led the chase group over the line in third, 18 seconds later.
Wout Poels now takes the race lead with one summit finish stage remaining, holding a 10-second advantage over Astana's Miguel Ángel López.
How it happened
Greg Van Avermaet and Taco van der Hoorn snuck themselves into an early quintet attempting to sneak up the road before Bora-Hansgrohe brought them to heel, before a strong group of contenders broke free. López, Landa, Simon Yates, Lutsenko, Haig, Poels and O'Connor all present.
They quickly took out a minute's advantage, fanning out before settling just under the two-minute mark with 100km remaining. 50km later and the front group had two and a half minutes on the Alessandro Covi group, who had been in trouble early on and found himself on the wrong side of the split. UAE Team Emirates pulled the second group in desperation to try and keep the leader's jersey within their ranks.
The gap was up above three minutes with 40km to go, a recoupling looking less and less likely with each passing kilometre. Up ahead, Bahrain-Victorious put in a few digs to try and reduce the numbers.
With under 20km until the finish, Lutsenko, O'Connor and Caruso attacked the front group, Simon Yates then bridging the gap before trying to go off on his own, Mikel Landa dropping off behind.
Soon the group was back together before Lutsenko found himself up the road again, this time alongside Wout Poels. O'Connor tried to free himself from the chase group behind, an unsuccessful counter-attack, as Poels and Lutsenko found themselves with a 20-second advantage with less than 10km to go.
Mauri Vansevenant was the next to try and reach the two leaders with 5km to go, yet in vain, and as the Belgian fell back in Yates attacked alongside Cristian Rodriguez and Cepeda.
This Yates group was soon caught too, however, and Poels and Lutsenko now had half a minute and looked likely to contest the victory between themselves.
Poels listened on the radio inside the final kilometre for the gap to those behind, the dozen or so riders soon coming into view back down the road. Poels led out into the sprint, the stockier Lutsenko behind looking a shoe-in for the stage victory.
Yet Poels found the power from somewhere to keep ahead of the Kazakh as Lutsenko launched his move around the side and the Dutchman claimed the stage victory and the race lead.
Ruta del Sol 2022, stage four: Cúllar Vega to Baza (167.4km)
1. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain-Victorious, in 3-56-52
2. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Qazaqstan, at same time
3. Mauri Vansevenant (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha vinyl, at 18 seconds
4. Simon Yates (GBr) BikeExchange - Jayco, at same time
5. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious
6. Cristián Rodríguez (Esp) TotalEnergies
7. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious
8. Iván Sosa (Col) Movistar
9. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën
10. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Qazaqstan
General classification after stage four
1. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain-Victorious, in 17-06-49
2. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Qazaqstan, at 10 seconds
3. Cristián Rodríguez (Esp) TotalEnergies, at 12s
4. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious, at same time
5. Iván Sosa (Col) Movistar
6. Carlos Rodriguez (Esp) Ineos Grenadiers
7. Simon Yates (GBr) BikeExchange - Jayco, at 21s
8. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën, at same time
9. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Qazaqstan
10. Mauri Vansevenant (Bel) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl, both at same time
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