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by Shane Stokes
August 27, 2014
Germany’s John Degenkolb notched up his first Grand Tour victory of the 2014 season, finishing well clear into Córdoba at the end of stage four of the Vuelta a España. The Giant-Shimano rider was by far the best out of a select group of riders thinned out by the day’s climbs, easily beating Vicente Reynes (IAM Cycling), Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge), Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp).
Matthews and Martin were first and second on the preceding stage and once again were prominent, with the former retaining his red jersey of race leader. The bonus he picked up for third saw him move eight seconds clear of Nairo Quintana and 15 up on Alejandro Valverde (both Movistar).
Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) remain fourth and fifth.
Degenkolb was understandably elated after his victory. “I love the Vuelta and also the country. I am always happy to be here, enjoying the lifestyle and the food. It is great in Spain,” he enthused, thinking no doubt of the five stages he took in 2012.
He is one of the best climbers out of those considered sprinters and proved that on the stage, making it over the two categorised climbs and having plenty left at the finish. He said that it made up for his disappointing showing on Monday when he was only 74th, one minute and three seconds back.
“Yesterday was quite a disappointment to not hang on as it was just too hard and too explosive,” he said. “Today I felt a little bit better. To handle the heat I need one or two days to adapt. I guess today it worked out.
“My team also did a great effort to hold me there and to motivate me. It is great to win another stage of the Vuelta.”
The fourth stage saw an early break of four riders push ahead, putting Sebastien Turgot (AG2R-La Mondiale) into the race lead on the road. However Matthews’ Orica GreenEdge team had no intention of handing over the lead and set a solid enough pace behind to prevent the break getting a substantial advantage.
They were ultimately hauled back and while another breakaway group attacked in the finale of the stage, the Orica GreenEdge team were able to bring things together for a 59 man sprint to the line.
The 164.7 kilometre fourth stage of the Vuelta a España ran from Mairena del Alcor to Córdoba, featured a flat first half and a much lumpier second part. Route details included sprints at Posadas (km. 79.8) and at the first passage across the finish line in Córdoba (km. 127.8), the category three Alto de San Jerónimo (km. 110) and the category two Alto del Catorce por Ciento (km. 138.7).
From the summit of the latter the riders would then have 26 mainly downhill kilometres to the finish line.
Very soon after the drop of the flag four riders clipped away. Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja-Rural), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), Sebastien Turgot (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Gert Joeaar (Cofidis) combined to eke out a lead of over four minutes after 20 kilometres, but this was then chipped away at by race leader Mattthews’ Orica GreenEdge riders.
The issue was Turgot’s proximity to the red jersey; he had started the stage just two minutes and 15 seconds back, making him a threat.
Turgot led Joeaar, Engoulvent and Aramendia through the first intermediate sprint (km. 79.8), where the break’s advantage was two minutes 27 seconds. He was race leader on the road, but only just.
The peloton accelerated heading towards the day’s first climb; Turgot’s dreams of taking the red jersey were under threat and evaporated altogether when he cracked on that category three Alto de San Jerónimo and was caught.
The other three pushed onwards but were caught and passed by Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA), who crested the summit first. Further back, Tour de France third-placed finisher Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was in trouble and cracked.
Engoulvent had spent a lot of the stage out front and wasn’t in a mood to give up. He caught Txurruka inside the final 50 kilometres but the duo were just 20 seconds clear of the reduced main bunch five kilometres later. They stubbornly pushed on and had a slightly-healthier 36 second lead at the second intermediate sprint. It was to no avail, though, and they were reeled in 33 kilometres from the finish.
As the roads started to rise again, some more of the remaining sprinters and strong men got into trouble. Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing), Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma Quick Step) were all amongst those who were dropped. Mathews and Degenkolb were faring better, riding solidly and hoping to fight it out for the stage.
Heading to the top Vuelta debutant Adam Yates (Orica GreenEdge) and Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) attacked, holding a lead on the descent. They were caught by former race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Romain Sicard (Europcar) on the descent, while further back Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) was briefly delayed by a puncture.
The quartet sped into the final 15 kilometres with a lead of 15 seconds, but momentum was lost when Sicard had a puncture. The other three kept going but the flatter roads favoured the hard-chasing group behind and they were caught with nine kilometres to go.
Matthews’ Orica GreenEdge team had been active and continued to drive the pace into the final four kilometres. The riders knew that they could keep Matthews in the red jersey and also give him the chance for a second stage win.
Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) had other thoughts and jumped clear with 1.7 kilometres remaining. The Australian showed plenty of zip in his legs despite the fact that the Vuelta is his tenth consecutive Grand Tour. He led under the kite but the Giant-Shimano team hauled him back with approximately 800 metres to go.
A slight stall followed, enabling a couple of others to push forward including Monday’s runner-up Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp). However the Irishman hesitated and was caught out when John Degenkolb and others launched their move.
The German was clearly quickest, blasting home well clear and notching up his first Grand Tour stage win of 2014. As for Matthews, he had to be content with third but increased his overall advantage over Quintana, Valverde plus the rest of the field.