The fourth stage of the Tour of the Basque Country, with finish in Zamudio, was won by Daniel Felipe Martínez. The Colombian from INEOS Grenadiers was the fastest in the sprint of a thinned group after an exciting stage, although the difference with Julian Alaphilippe was very small. Primož Roglič is still in the lead in the general classification.
On day four of the Tour of the Basque Country, the drivers were faced with another difficult stage. Yesterday the favorites competed for the win, but today the refugees looked with interest at the road book. Today’s race started from Vitoria-Gasteiz, 500 meters above sea level and then the route went over four serious climbs towards the finish in Zamudio. With the Urruztimendi (1.9 km at 11%, max. 16-18%) the heavy work was not shunned today, the Vivero (6 km at 6.3%, max. 18-19%) stood up twice the program and had to serve as an absolute executioner.
Strong leading group with Vansevenant and Thomas
The riders, with jersey wearer Primož Roglič in the front row, started again today under a delicious Basque spring sun. After several skirmishes from the start, fourteen riders managed to find each other and break away from the peloton. The names: Mauri Vansevenant, Geraint Thomas, Cristián Rodríguez, Victor Lafay, Rubén Fernández, Bruno Armirail, Ruben Guerreiro, Mark Donovan, Jefferson Cepeda, Davide Formolo, Óscar Rodriguez, Tsgabu Grmay, Mikel Iturria and Felix Grossschartner. Pascal Eenkhoorn was initially also with us, but at the request of the team management of Jumbo-Visma, he allowed himself to be caught up again by the peloton.
The leading group did not just get a free pass on the way to the finish. In the peloton, the men of Equipo Kern Pharma tried to rectify the imbalance, as not a single rider from the Spanish formation was with them in the early break. Equipo Kern Pharma initially managed to keep the difference within limits, but at the same time did not come a single step closer to the fourteen leaders. After a futile hunt for the front runners, the spring broke and the fourteen attackers finally got some breathing room. The lead went up to more than three minutes, a battle on two fronts became increasingly plausible.
Leading group shatters on the Urruztimendi
And so Cristián Rodríguez, who had also been on the attack all day on Wednesday, could call himself the virtual leader. The Spaniard from TotalEnergies was the best placed rider in the leading group (sixteenth at 2m12s from Roglič) and could possibly double. Jumbo-Visma, however, had other plans and did not let the lead get too high. In other words, Rodríguez could better focus on the mountains classification and the 27-year-old rider did just that. The mountain king came first on the second climb of the day, the Java, and managed to score some welcome points for the mountain jersey.
With more than fifty kilometers to go Grmay saw his moment had come to accelerate. The climber from Ethiopia jumped away from the leading group and managed to run a minute ahead of his fellow refugees on his own. A valiant effort by the BikeExchange-Jayco rider, but it turned out to be a wasted effort, as Grmay was caught on the steep sections of the Urruztimendi by the strongest climbers in the leading group. Thomas, Guerreiro, Lafay and Armirail went up and over the tired Grmay and together they started the fast descent of the Urruztimendi. In the group of favorites it remained quiet.
Action on the steep Vivero
Vansevenant, Iturria and Formolo were able to rejoin Thomas, Guerreiro, Lafay and Armirail in the somewhat flatter intermediate phase between the Urruztimendi and the Vivero, so that we started with seven leaders on the last executioner of the day: the Vivero. In the first two kilometers the riders were faced with dizzying gradients, but Lafay was not deterred and went full throttle. Armirail tried to follow, but caught his breath and watched his compatriot grow smaller and smaller. The pace in the peloton was now also good, partly due to an acceleration by Pierre Latour.
Lafay, meanwhile, controlled the steepest percentages of the Vivero at a tight cadence, extending his lead over the first pursuers – Armirail, Thomas, Formolo and Guerreiro. In the group of favorites, there was a strong drive at times, but just as often it stopped again. This allowed Lafay to extend his lead to one and a half minutes and so he made an emphatic shot at the stage victory. The Cofidis rider came first on top of the Vivero, but the finish in Zamudio was only reached after a fast final of just under twenty kilometers.
Lafay impresses, but falls silent in the final
In short, the lonely frontrunner had to shake a solo of about twenty kilometers from his legs. The danger no longer came from his fellow escapees, but from the thinned peloton, led by the men of Quick-Step Alpa Vinyl and later also Bahrain Victorious and UAE Emirates. The difference between Lafay and the group (containing the important classification riders) was only a minute. Thomas, Guerreiro, Formolo and Armirail were still swallowed by the big pack, but Lafay’s lead seemed reassuring. However, the Frenchman fell silent in the final and was caught two kilometers from the finish.
And so we got a sprint with a thinned out group. Remco Evenepoel took the lead again in the last kilometer ahead of Julian Alaphilippe and again impressed with a huge head turn, but Alaphilippe was unable to finish it again. The Frenchman did come up in the last meters, but it was Daniel Felipe Martínez who won by a small margin. Alaphilippe finished second by a few millimeters, Diego Ulissi finished third. Primož Roglič came in fourth and remains the leader in the Tour of the Basque Country.