Another day, another change in the overall lead, as Darwin Atapuma took over the red jersey in the Vuelta a Espana. The day went to Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie, however, as the Frenchman took the stage win with a late attack from the breakaway
Another short stage greeted the field in this year’s Vuelta a Espana. Stage 4 took the field from Betanzos to San Andrés de Teixido, but it would also arguably be the most difficult stage so far. The day would finish with a category 2 climb to the finish, but there would also be two category 3 climbs.
Biggest break so far
The Vuelta’s biggest break of the race so far managed to go clear of the peloton, and within the peloton the roles were reversed as well. Up until now Team Sky had been forced to do the brunt of the chasing each day, but now Movistar – with new race leader Rubén Fernandez – were the dominant team leading the pack. The day also saw the biggest breakaway of the race so far.
IAM Cycling had Lawrence Warbasse and Marcel Wyss in the break, Dimension Data had Nathan Has and Merhawi Kudus, Bora-Argon18 had Cesare Benedetti and Scott Thwaites, Cannondale-Drapac had Ben King and Pierre Rolland; and Caja Rural Seguros RGA had Jaime Roson Garcia and Angel Madrazo Ruiz. Also in the move were Enrico Battaglin of LottoNL-Jumbo, Axel Domont of AG2R La Mondiale, Chad Haga of GIANT-Alpecin, Darwin Atapuma of BMC Racing, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Andrey Zeits of Astana, Zdenek Stybar of Etixx-Quick Step, Tsgabu Grmay of Lampre-Merida, Stephane Rossetto of Cofidis and Lilian Calmejane of Direct Energie.
The break was not a threat to the long-term GC hopes of the likes of Contador, Quintana, Froome, Valverde and co. Movistar were happy to let the break’s lead grow and grow steadily throughout the day. In fact with 25km to go the break’s lead was 5.24mins and growing. Despite the fact that the lead was growing all the time for the break, it was interesting to note that cooperation among the break wasn’t always fluid. That could largely be attributed to the numbers in the move. A couple of times splits appeared in the break, and Thomas De Gendt even went on a long range effort; a move which proved the trigger for many more.
Bewley on team duty up front
Meanwhile back in the bunch Dimension Data and Orica-BikeExchange paid close attention to the goings on at the front of the peloton. Orica-BikeExchange’s presence meant Sam Bewley could be seen very close to the front of the action, keeping teammate Esteban Chaves safe. Stage 3 had been a successful one for the team with Chaves moving up in the overall standings to fourth. Today’s stage would potentially provide another opportunity to journey up the GC.
1.35mins was the gap for the highest placed GC rider in the peloton. Darwin Atapuma was that rider, and if the break were going to get to the line with a reasonable advantage then it would be Atapuma going into the overall lead and enjoying a decent lead over his nearest rivals. First though, Atapuma would have to mark a number of moves from other riders including Axel Domont and Angel Madrazo.
With 17.5km to go Tsgabu Grmay launched an attack which again was brought back. It was interesting to note that twice Thomas De Gendt had attacked the break, choosing not to rely on his vast climbing abilities. Both times he was brought back but one had to wonder whether he’d burnt his matches for the stage. Meanwhile the gap stabilised at 5.20mins with 16km left to race. They contested the intermediate sprint with less than 15km to go; with Zdenek Stybar taking maximum points. Axel Domont took the opportunity to attack straight afterwards though, this time gaining a little daylight on his breakaway companions.
Back in the bunch Orica-BikeExchange now took over the pace setting on the front of the pack, with Movistar given an unexpected reprieve. Almost on cue the race sprang into life in an effort to get the GC men positioned well on the run in to the finish. Tinkoff and Team Sky were there, so too Movistar and Orica-BikeExchange. It would all be very interesting to see how things would pan out in the end on the somewhat narrow roads.
Domont attacks before Calmejane makes his move
Axel Domont, however, was unfazed by the goings on behind him as he began the final climb in earnest. The climb itself began 11km from the finish and then, after a brief spot of relaxation kicked up again in the final couple of kilometres. Domont set a good tempo up the climb, while behind him Team Sky hit the peloton with their climbing power; and were quickly matched by Movistar.
Cannondale-Drapac’s Ben King led the chase behind Domont and eventually they caught the Frenchman with 9.3km to go; and with 3.55mins remaining of their original advantage. Next to attack was Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane. He was also allowed a little bit of a lead to work with as Alejandro Valverde took over the pace setting. Calmejane was not expected to win the stage and it was Pierre Rolland who initially launched a one-man chase effort to try and catch him. Rolland struggled though and was caught out in no man’s land between Calmejane and the group of the prospective new race leader Darwin Atapuma.
With 5.4km to go Calmejane still led with 3.32mins in hand over the bunch and a few useful second in hand over the chasers; in fact Calmejane’s lead was sitting at around 25 seconds to Pierre Rolland, who still could not catch him. In fact Rolland was going backwards and was caught with 3km to go. That 3km to go banner was the trigger for Darwin Atapuma to have a dig, a dig that succeeded in just distancing the group a little; but couldn’t shake them properly.
Stage for France, red for Colombia
Up ahead though it was all about Calmejane who patiently bided his time up the final 2km of the race. He still had 3 minutes in hand on the bunch, with a decent time gap to Atapuma. Back in the peloton Peter Kennaugh made a surprise move that saw him out ahead of the peloton and alone; perhaps as a marker for teammate Froome later on in the stage.
With 1km to go Calmejane could be seen by the chasers, but it looked like he’d done enough for the stage as he laboured up the final 500m of the stage. With 200m to go Calmejane saw fit to zip up the jersey and enjoy the moment. 14 seconds later Darwin Atapuma crossed the line ahead of Ben King for second place; and then he waited to see if he’d done enough to take over the race lead. Andrey Zeits of Astana and Nathan Haas completed the top 5.
Back in the bunch Etixx-Quick Step led the pack with Valverde, Chaves, Quintana and Cotador all present along with Chris Froome. Peter Kennaugh had been mopped back up but there would be no attacks from the GC contenders, as they ramped up the pace but not enough to rattle each other. Valverde led their group across the line, but more than 2 minutes behind Darwin Atapuma; confirming that the BMC Racing Colombian would step into the race lead. Sadly though for LottoNL-Jumbo, team leader Steven Kruijswijk lost more time overall, 36 seconds to the Froome group. However, he had loyal Kiwi George Bennett with him to the end. Bennett crossed the line 49th on the stage, 2.40mins down on Calmejane
Overall the race again changed hands, with no rider so far able to hold the red jersey for more than a day. Darwin Atapuma’s lead overall was 29 seconds over Alejandro Valverde, with Chris Froome 4 seconds further back in 3rd. It was a great day to be a Colombian, with three of them in the top five overall. Nairo Quintana trailed compatriot Esteban Chaves who was in fourth place.