Ben King of Team Dimension Data has won stage 4 of the Vuelta a Espana. King was one of a large group of riders who survived from a breakaway that finished over 3 minutes ahead of the GC contenders on the first major summit finish of the 2018 Vuelta. George Bennett continued to climb the GC standings with a strong climbing display that matched his rivals.
At 161.4km in length the stage from Vélez-Málaga to Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara was going to be the first major climbing challenge for the riders, with two big category 1 climbs to contend with. The first peaked at 78.2km and the second at the finish line as the riders climbed up to 1435m in elevation by the day’s end.
Breakaway enjoys freedom in the mountains
For the first time in the race a breakaway was given its freedom by the peloton in a much larger way than in previous stages. The ever-present Luis Angel Mate of Cofidis and Pierre Rolland of EF Education First-Drapac – in all moves so far in the race – were once again at their breakaway tricks, alongside Astana’s Nikita Stalnov, AG2R La Mondiale’s Ben Gastauer, Jelle Wallays of Lotto Soudal, Lars Boom of LottoNL-Jumbo, King, Aritz Bagues of Euskadi-Murias and Oscar Cabedo of Burgos-BH. At the first climb their advantage had grown to 4.30mins with 51km covered.
With no threat’s to Team Sky’s overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski, Sky allowed the break’s advantage to shoot up from there to a potentially stage-winning 7 minutes with 95km to go and upwards from there to 9 minutes with 50km remaining. Despite, or possibly because of the large time gap, the break’s work together began to fracture quite early, with riders beginning to look at each other as Jelle Wallays flirted with the idea of a long range solo attack.
In the peloton the number of teams at the front around Sky was beginning to lift, as Groupama-FDJ, Movistar, Astana and Mitchelton-Scott all got involved in the goings on at the front of the race. As the peloton arrived in Santa Fe LottoNL-Jumbo for George Bennett were sitting around the middle of the pack, not quite prepared to unleash yet with the long 12.4km climb to come.
At the intermediate sprint Ben King and Jelle Wallays contested the points, with the former coming around Wallays to take maximum points, but the duo used the intermediate sprint to launch an attack of their own, pursued by Stalnov. Together the three riders had a significant gap with 16.5km to go. The trio arrived at the bottom of the climb proper with a lead of almost 30 seconds, while behind them Team Sunweb, Bahrain-Merida and UAE Team Emirates all got involved at the front, quickly taking a minute out of the leaders’ advantage.
Stalnov and King strongest as LottoNL-Jumbo put hammer down
No sooner had the climb started for Wallays, though, than the Lotto Soudal rider dropped off the pace; leaving King and Stalnov to fight on. Out of the chase group Pierre Rolland attacked and quickly bridged across to Wallays, while Stalnov and King appeared content to work together. In the peloton LottoNL-Jumbo suddenly made a big move to take control of the peloton with four riders on the front; including George Bennett. The pressure from Bennett’s squad saw Ilnur Zakarin among those to find the going tough, along with Vincenzo Nibali; with both among those to drop off the pace as the GC group began to string right out.
Despite Rolland’s best efforts he was finding the resilience of Stalnov and King a little too much to contend with, and with 5km to go the gap of 27 seconds was holding and even going out to 30 seconds. The peloton behind were closing, but not really quickly enough to challenge the three leaders at this point. LottoNL-Jumbo were piling on the pressure on the front of the peloton and significantly although Mitchelton-Scott were looking like the in-form team, Team Sky were struggling and it wasn’t long before Michal Kwiatkowski was left without any teammates to support him.
Simon Yates was looking threatening from the GC group, sitting third wheel ahead of George Bennett, with Kwiatkowski and Quintana right behind the Kiwi. While the pace continued to go up from LottoNL-Jumbo, it proved too much for Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo. Up ahead the time gap was steadily coming down for the leaders ahead of Rolland, and with 4km the Frenchman had closed to within 16 seconds. True to his threatening appearance, Simon Yates eventually attacked and distanced his rivals, putting still more pressure on the red jersey and at the same time the rest of the GC contenders; which were now just a dozen or so strong.
Yates proves GC threat, King wins after tactical gamble
The Mitchelton-Scott rider quickly built a 23 second lead over Kwiatkowski and co, with Bennett still there along with teammate Steven Kruijswijk. Up ahead Pierre Rolland was yoyo-ing closer and further from King and Stalnov; who had patiently bided their time and with 1km to go still had around 20 seconds in hand. In the final kilometre King decided to gamble and sit on the wheel of the Astana rider in the closing metres. It was a risky move as Rolland was closing, with 500m to go Rolland looked like he might just do enough to get on board. But with 200m to go King finally launched his acceleration and out-kicked Stalnov, with Pierre Rolland not quite able to make contact with the leaders. He took third ahead of king of the mountains leader Luis Angel Mate
From here the clock continued to tick as Simon Yates entered the last kilometre and continued to power onwards. Steven Kruijswijk was looking strong on the front of the peloton, but so too was Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez who attacked from the group. Yates crossed the line 2.48mins behind King, with an impressive Emanuel Buchman completing the top 10; 2 seconds behind the Brit. Lopez was next 17 seconds behind Yates, with Valverde and then Kwiatkowski leading the GC group through.
The result means that Buchman and Yates move up to second and third respectively at 7 seconds and 10 seconds to Kwiatkowski respectively. George Bennett moved up another 4 places in the general classification to 13th; still 45 seconds behind the Polish rider.