Orica GreenEdge's Simon Clarke outfoxed Tony Martin of Omega Pharma Quick Step to win stage 4 of the Vuelta a España from the day-long breakaway to the ski station at Valdezcaray. Overall leader Alejandro Valverde of Movistar gave up the jersey to Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez today after crashing before the day's final climb and failing to chase back on.
The break was on the rampage all day today, as Clarke and Martin powered a group that included Luis Angel Mate, Assan Bazayev, and Jesus Rosendo, gaining as much as 13 minutes on the peloton over the rolling roads of Rioja. But with some 30km to go, Team Sky went to the front, applying pressure.
At the back of the pack a scramble of Movistar riders ended up in a crash, with Valverde going down. Nobody was hurt, but the gaps that opened up wounded Valverde's chances right away. Strong crosswinds created echelons, making it all the harder to chase back, and soon Valverde had conceded a minute to his main rivals.
On the final climb Martin and Clarke attacked and stayed away together to the line, while behind them Alberto Contador of Saxo TInkoff enlivened things a bit, putting Rodriguez in arrears, but eventually the climb slackened and the remaining favorites rolled home together, minus Valverde and his teammate Beñat Intxausti, held back to help despite lying second overall. Valverde lost 59 seconds to Contador, Froome and Rodriguez, among others.
The subject of the day was whether Sky should have kept up the pace when the race leader went down. Polemics are usually a matter of taste, but it's critical to point out that Sky took the bit and
caught Valverde sitting at the back, a solid tactical move. That Valverde then crashed was not Sky's fault in any way. Given the season British Cycling is having, perhaps it's only fair that polemics at the Vuelta go their way this time. If you don't know about the '85 Vuelta and what happened to Robert Millar, you might want to look it up, if only so you get the constant references you'll be hearing from British Eurosport or any other English commentator.
[ursula edit: Valverde was just off the front when the crash happened.]
- Simon Clarke, Orica GreenEdge
- Tony Martin, OPQS, s.t.
- Assan Bazayev, Astana, at 0.22
- Marcos Garcia, Caja Rural, at 0.55
- Nicholas Roche, AG2R, s.t.
- Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha
- Chris Froome, Sky, at 0.01
- Alberto Contador, Saxo Tinkoff, at 0.05
- Bauke Mollema, Rabobank, at 0.09
- Robert Gesink, Rabobank, s.t.