Volta Ciclista a Catalunya Stage 4 Preview
Unsurprignly it was Yates who took the win. But.. it was Adam Yates, believed by many to be Simon the truth is the Micthelton-Scott rider got his second win of the season, he countered an early move by Bernal and Quintana and then outsprinted Bernal and Dan Martin in the finish. Quintana finished in the group but out of the bonus seconds, whilst teammate Alejandro Valverde lost contact with the main group early on and dropped out of the overall contention, loosing over two minutes. And despite all Thomas de Gendt remains with the yellow jersey after a gutsy ride.
Sergio Samitier (Euskadi), Bart De Clercq (Wanty), Maurits Lammertink (Roompot), Lennard Kämna (Sunweb), Dries Devenyns (Deceuninck), Francois Bidard (AG2R), Anthony Delaplace (Arkéa), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Jumbo-Visma), Álvaro Cuadros (Caja Rural) , Pieter Weening (Roompot) and Óscar Cabedo (Burgos) formed the day's break. 11 riders in total that got away early in the race and it was a somewhat dangerous break, with riders like Devenyns and Weening who can climb very well.
Their gap got to around 5 minutes in it's maximum, and arriving at the final climb the attacks were coming thick and fast. When the slopes got harder so did the pace, and that was how Weening managed to distance the others. His gap didn't look safe at that point though, and quickly it got nulified when the tempo got higher, consequence of Sky's actions in the front of the peloton.
The start of the climb was rather slow but when Sky hit the fore with around 9.5Km to go quickly the peloton began to shed riders out the back. With Froome absent from the "leadout", Bernal's teammates Narvaez, Henao, Sivakov and Sosa did their turn in keeping the pace very high, with it distancing the likes of de Gendt, Valverde, Simon Yates, Formolo, Porte and some other possibilities for the stage win, whilst also catching Weening up front.
With 5 kilometers to go it was no surprise to see an attack by Egan Bernal. Identical to Paris-Nice he attacked after his team's leadout only to be followed by Quintana, but the Movistar was hesitant in collaborating. Adam Yates in the meantime jumped from the chasing group and connected with them. But with Quintana's lack of work there was no agreement, with Daniel Martin and Miguel Angel Lopez to also bridge across.
The attacks kept on coming, everyone except unsurprisingly Quintana had a dig but no-one managed to make it stick. In the end there was a restbite between the group as they got ready for the sprint. Martin was first to go, Yates followed his wheel and launched his own accelaration, and in the final straight he managed to confirm his little gap over the others, which was enough to hold of an upcoming Bernal who took second on the stage.
On stage 4 the race remains in the mountains, a similar route to previous years' stage where riders like Daniel Martin and Alejandro Valverde won. The approach isn't the same but the climbs are, and the Creueta/Molina combination returns from last year.
But this year, the Coll de Coubet (9.2Km at 5.5%) will precede last year's combo, the Port de la Creueta is a long climb, with 19.9Km at a 4.7% average gradient with a little descent in the middle. Then the race will enter a circuit where they will climb La Molina twice.
La Molina officially is 11.4Km at 4.3% average, but that's an innacurate look at the climb. On the road, the first 8.1Km are at 6.7% (with some steeper sections), and the final 600 meters at 8% reaching 14% at a point. It isn't a brutally hard climb but with an easier route last year Movistar completely bombed the stage in the climbs, so there's every reason to expect a lot of show here, more knowing it's the final chance to gain back real time for the overall contenders.
Like today the wind will only be a slight breeze coming from the south, up to La Molina it shouldn't make any difference as the mountainside should cover most of the climb, if it would make any difference it would be in the begining of the stage where they should have a tail-crosswind combination for the first 110 kilometers.
Who can we expect to see?
So there's a paradox that is very important for tomorrow. The strongest team seems to be Movistar. Valverde may not be in his best, but he, Soler and Carapaz will have the obbligation to attack the race in favour of Quintana. Quintana isn't an explosive rider (unlike the three riders that finished in front of him today) so he has no option other from attacking from far.
The problem is, Quintana has been far from an agressive rider, the complete opposite as he looked to not want to collaborate with Bernal and the Yayes too. The situation can get confusing, Movistar need to have a clear set out plan in the begining of the day and they must make sure they play into Quintana's strenghts instead of leaving it for the end.
Adam Yates and Egan Bernal are explosive riders, and like today, they can easily gain time (in bonus seconds at least) if the race is left for the final kick to the ski station. None should play defensively seeing the gaps are so small between each other, Bernal's Sky showed very strong today and it's possible to also see them trying to place riders in the breakaway tomorrow, as for Mitchelton their overall performance was anything but brilliant today, but Sky has no-one else to play overall so they should still work for Bernal like today. Dan Martin's situation is similar to Yates', but he should fit the stage well, and he may be an ally for Yates or some other rider who may ride with him in case of a very hard race.
Miguel Angel Lopez looked very good today, although having lacked the power in the end. He has Kudos, Zeits and Bilbao as good cards to play in a breakaway. Lopez may have trouble going on the offensive early as he isn't a very good descender and also lacks the speed in faster sections, but Astana are a very strong team when it comes to this terrain so he should always have someone able to ride with him even in the hardest of times.
All other riders seemed very distant from these 5. Kruijswijk was the best of the rest, but he never looked like he could come across, far from it, so from the rest we should see who can be a threat due to tactical thinking.
In Paris-Nice Ilnur Zakarin and Wilco Kelderman were offensive in the final stage but it didn't lead to a result, here I don't think they'll be offensive aswell, also as not really good descenders. Pinot and Bardet could use the "panache" as an excuse, both of them are very strong riders so a place outside the Top10 shouldn't be something they'll fight to keep. Bardet specially is a lover of that type of attacking so there's a good possibility of seeing him up the road tomorrow.
The duo to look at though should be Richard Carapaz and Alejandro Valverde. Carapaz wasn't brilliant, but his 8th place confirmed a great ride nonetheless. Movistar's current situation may be the trigger to let the Colombian be an important card to play. Soler can also be considered, but above him is Valverde. His race saturday in Milano-Sanremo shows that form isn't an issue, also he was second just two days ago. He must've had a bad day, or didn't fit well the altitude or very little descending in the day. Either way tomorrow he should be looking for a better ride, and he'll certainly be more motivated to go on the attack, he deserves a mention as a possible favourite, but just in case he's climbing better than today.
⭐ Valverde, Carapaz, Kruiswijk, Woods, Pinot, Bardet, Kruijswijk
I'll go with Bernal for tomorrow though. He looks stronger than everyone except Yates, but his team should be strong enough to control the race. He and Yates could be rated 50/50, the finishing ramp suits both, and I don't imagine Quintana or Lopez being able to gap them at any time.
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