Remi Cavagna of Deceuninck-QuickStep has won his team’s fourth stage of the 2019 Vuelta a Espana. The Frenchman held off the peloton that was led home by Sam Bennett with Zdenek Stybar third. Dion Smith also produced a strong top-15 position at the end of a day that was blighted by poor weather conditions at a crucial time.
Ávila to Toledo was a journey of 165.2km. The stage was a possible opportunity for the sprinters with just one more big day in the mountains and then the finale in Madrid. 11 riders were up for the challenge in the breakaway with none other than Shane Archbold of BORA-Hansgrohe getting in the breakaway. The Flying Mullet had company in Nikias Arndt of Team Sunweb, Ben O’Connor of Dimension Data, David de la Cruz of Team Ineos, Lawson Craddock of EF Education First, Tsgabu Grmay of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Bruno Armirail of Groupama-FDJ, Domen Novak of Bahrain Merida, Silvan Dillier of AG2R La Mondiale and Rémi Cavagna of Deceuninck-QuickStep.
Archbold’s presence in the break was short but sweet. The Kiwi went over the climb of the day, the 12.1km Alto de la Paramera and lasted until the 50km mark in the stage, at which point he dropped back to support Sam Bennett in the peloton. The break’s lead climbed, however, to 3.50mins before being closed down, but then the heavens opened and the resulting conditions caused a big crash, a big change in dynamic and a big loss for Jumbo-Visma in the form of Tony Martin.
Martin wasn’t the only one to crash, the red jersey of Primož Roglič and the white jersey of the shoulders of Miguel Angel Lopez also hit the deck; and this is where the controversy started as Movistar drove the pace on the front in the crosswinds. For 15km outrage amongst a number of riders and cycling fans unfolded as Movistar en masse hit the front of the peloton and rode hard, to try and make good the opportunity to put time into the red jersey; abandoning the unwritten rule that you don’t take advantage of the race leader’s misfortune.
For almost 15km Movistar tried to make the most of the crosswinds, drilling their group as Roglič remounted and chased with over a minute to make up on the group of Valverde and Quintana. Steadily the gap closed from 1 minute between groups with 58km to go to the point where Roglič, Lopez, even Shane Archbold who’d been caught behind in the crash all managed to regain contact with the main field chasing the breakaway.
After contact was made, Movistar had sat up and all the main contenders had regained contact, the break was allowed to grow their lead back out to 1.47mins. There was an interesting dynamic at play within the breakaway as neither Grmay nor Cavagna were prepared to work, but with the crosswinds the break opted to hug the right hand side of the road in order to limit the duo’s advantage. That seemingly did nothing to stop Cavagna though, who went on the attack with 25km to go and quickly went into time trial mode.
He quickly gained a lead of 20 seconds over the rest of the break, with the peloton still some way back and not really closing significant ground initially until with 10km to go where the gap had closed to 1.06mins. With the thought that a peloton could easily make up 1 minute per 10km this would be a close run fight. The Frenchman was doing a great job of holding off the pack, with his lead only dipping below 1 minute with 8km to go.
At 4km to go Cavagna’s lead was sitting at 30 seconds while behind him the breakaway was fragmenting with just Arndt, Armirail and Craddock still able to chase and hold off the peloton. The finish for the stage was a pretty brutal 600m climb to the line that came after a rapid descent that saw Cavagna continue to hold his ground.
Finally the peloton caught the remnants of the break, and finally Cavagna hit the cobbled climb to the line. With 300m to go Cavagna still had clear daylight to the peloton who still were unseen. The Frenchman dug deep and took the final turn with his advantage holding to the rest of the field. Finally the peloton, led by Sam Bennett, honed into view but they were 5 seconds back. The Irishman was easily the best in the bunch with Deceuninck-QuickStep right on his tail, but sadly for him right in front of him.
Cavagna won with three Deceuninck-QuickStep riders in the top four with Stybar third and Gilbert fourth behind Bennett. Alejandro Valverde finished fifth on the stage, with Dion Smith of Mitchelton-SCOTT sprinting to thirteenth; his best position in the Vuelta so far, matching his breakaway exploits in stage 17.