Vuelta al País Vasco (st. 4)
Valverde puts two seconds on Contador (TCS), closes in on stage victory in País Vasco after offensive Movistar Team launched Herrada, Ion Izagirre on early attacks
No big time gaps were seen during the second big mountain stage of the 2014 Vuelta al País Vasco, with Dutchman Wout Poels (OPQ) taking the victory in the Santuario de Arrate after 151km with five rated climbs from the start in Vitoria. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) came close to stage honours in this year’s Itzulia with his 2nd place, good legs proven by the Spaniard through the entire climb of Usartza (Cat-1.)
After an overwhelming start to the stage -48 kph average after two hours of racing-, where the telephone squad controlled all break attempts, Beñat Intxausti and José Herrada tried to open a gap into a twelve-man group going by during the Karabieta ascent (Cat-2). Herrada tried again after a quartet that moved into the downhill, but he paid his efforts and dropped in the Alto de Ixua (Cat-1). However, Ion Izagirre took his relay by jumping from the pack and bridging, with OPQS setting a fast pace on the selected group afterwards. The attempt was caught in the streets of Eibar, never ammassing more than a minute’s gap.
Valverde went on three occassions to Contador’s (TCS) wheel in Usartza, before Poels profiting from vigilance in the group to gain some meters unattainable for their rivals. Alejandro led the short descent to the line and put two seconds on the GC leader, thus reducing the gap on Contador to just 12″ with two stages to go. “I might have been a bit more conservative today – that’s because of Saturday’s TT and also tomorrow’s stage, which is gonna be hard,” he explained after the stage. “I was mainly responding to Contador’s attacks on the climb. I could have tried, but I didn’t know how he could react – he’s really strong at the moment. I’m feeling well and I think I can do a good job all the way to Saturday.”
Before Saturday’s decisive TT, another hard, 160km stage to Markina-Xemein awaits, with four climbs -Gontzagaigana (Cat-3), Santa Eufemia (Cat-3), Ixua (Cat-1) and San Miguel (Cat-2)- in the finale.