Vuelta al País Vasco (st. 4)
Nairo Quintana stays 3rd in País Vasco overall -with Ion Izagirre now in 8th- after intense fight en route to Arrate, yet without any significant gaps
A relentless fight at the front from the very start; 70km and two rated climbs needed to establish a dangerous break, never gaining more than two-and-a-half minutes of advantage; plenty of attacks into the final climb of Usartza… and at the end, no changes overall in a Vuelta al País Vasco still at anyone's reach, including the Movistar Team riders, following the Queen stage over 162km and seven climbs towards the Santuario de Arrate in Eibar.
Nairo Quintana and Ion Izagirre were the biggest highlights of a day full of good performances from the telephone squad's riders. Beñat Intxausti and Gorka Izagirre tried to get themselves into the early break and forced the bunch to pursuit; eventually, a four-man attempt including Tony Martin (EQS) obliged Antón, Visconti and José Herrada to push until the end of the penultimate ascent, the Alto de San Miguel. Over the top of that hill, the Izagirre brothers perfectly escorted Nairo into the last descent, and together with Beñat, launched the pace to catch the escapees and lead Quintana out into the Category-1 Usartza, where Ion and Nairo responded to successive attacks from Zakarin (KAT) and Henao (SKY).
Finally, twelve riders led through by Joaquim Rodríguez (KAT) came together, with Ion in fourth place while Nairo finished in seventh. Both are now part of an overall top-ten still commanded by Henao; Quintana sits in 3rd, with the same time of the yellow jersey, as Izagirre climbs into 8th, 10" back. The 'Itzulia' thus becomes a matter of two hard days ahead, starting with the 155km stage five from Eibar to the 'wall' of Aia, climbed three times after an additional six categorized ascents.
REACTION / Ion Izagirre: “We came here to win this race, we've got a strong team and we're trying to show it. It was a really demanding day from the beginning: the real breakaway wasn't forming, attacks were everywhere and it was also good for us the race to become harder, so we could make a difference into the final climb. We started the Usartza climb at a high pace from the foot, with that leadout from Beñat, and when Zakarin attacked, I joined him and Luis León, but soon I saw it wasn't the best pace for me, too fast. I opted to stay on my own rhythm and, when I saw Henao was overtaking me and he was alone, I waited for Nairo so I could bring him to his wheel, pushing into the climb and a bit more over the top.
At the final 2k, we managed to catch both Zakarin and Henao, and I tried to bring Nairo forward into the group because it was crucial to start the descent on front, but with 600m to go, I could see Nairo's chain dropping a bit, and he lost some meters which disabled him to contest the sprint. It wasn't to be today, but there's another good stage on Friday. Nairo is in good spirits, willing to fight, he looks strong and he's always staying with the top guys. Surely he will be there tomorrow."