Katusha's unbelievable run continued today at the fourth stage of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco as Joaquim Rodriguez sealed his second consecutive stage victory at Arrate with a perfectly timed downhill attack. Cresting the summit of the Alto de Uzartza with just over 2km to go and the stage battle raging among the overall contenders, it was Rodriguez who, applying his memory of the finish from a stage he narrowly lost here in the 2012 Vuelta a Espana, waited for the the perfect moment to jump to the front, inside 500 meters. From there he used the chicanes of the road to maintain his position and hold off Trek's Bauke Mollema for the win. Simon Yates of Orica-GreenEdge edged Jon Izagirre of Movistar for the final podium place. Sky's Sergio Henao, the overnight leader, and Movistar's Nairo Quintana both finished in the same group, and the duo remain tied with Rodriguez for the overall lead, with Henao holding the jersey.
Katusha, on an incredible high this week from the combined exploits of Rodriguez and Alexander Kristoff in Belgium, had plenty of cards to play in the closing moments of the stage. They sent Ilnur Zakarin to the front when the road turned up with seven kilometers remaining, and the Russian got a 14 second gap along with Izagirre and Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana. Before long, Zakarin had dropped those two, but Henao accelerated away from his rivals to join Zakarin at the head of the race. They maintained a 10 second gap for a while but by the summit -- once again thronged with screaming Basque fans -- the chase had brought the leaders back, driven largely by Michele Scarponi of Astana.
The peloton now moves to its conclusion in Aia, where tomorrow's stage finishes and Saturday's time trial takes place, and where the overall title will be determined. Stage 5 is a mountaintop finish on the Alto de Aia, last of nine rated climbs on the day and one taken in three times in the final phase of the stage. This is one of those rare moments where the jagged stage profiles we so often make fun of might actually be on point. There are two faces of the Alto de Aia, but here's a profile from six years ago when the race stopped by:
The other face is a 4km ascent averaging just under 8%, with ramps up to 20%, so it's no picnic either. Since the race uses the climb three times (twice to the summit, once to the finish just below), it's likely that both faces will come into play. Stage 6 is a time trial in the same area. Should be fun!
- Joaquim Rodriguez, Katusha
- Bauke Mollema, Trek, s.t.
- Simon Yates, Orica GreenEdge, s.t.
- Jon Izagirre, Movistar, s.t.
- Sergio Henao, Sky. s.t.
- Michele Scarponi, Astana, s.t.
- Nairo Quintana, Movistar, s.t.
- Ilnur Zakarin, Katusha, s.t.
- Rui Costa, Lampre, s.t.
- Thibaut Pinot, FDJ, s.t.
- Rodriguez, s.t.
- Quintana, s.t.
- Scarponi, at 0.07
- Mollema, at 0.10