Valverde finishes 10th in Basque big city, sits now in 4th overall in País Vasco -Rubén Fernández now up to 8th- after dangerous final circuit causes several crashes. Dowsett unable to conserve yellow in La Sarthe; Castroviejo 4th today, 3rd in GC
The two crashes occurred at the descent of the non-rated Santo Domingo climb and the last roundabout before the finish in Bilbao’s Gran Vía avenue happily didn’t affect any of the Movistar Team riders, the Blue squad -down to seven as José Herrada, sick, had to stop at the feed zone– able to keep Alejandro Valverde unscathed on stage four of the Vuelta al País Vasco. The Spaniard focused on the late moves into the Alto del Vivero (Cat-2) and crossed the line in 10th place, safely through an uneventful day in terms of GC standings: only surprise attacker Primoz Roglic (TLJ), eventually stage winner, could change things before the decisive weekend.
The Slovenian’s three-second margin over the favourites’ group at the line lead him into 2nd overall, tied with De la Cruz (QST) and narrowly ahead of a twenty-man ‘sandwich’ within 3” of the yellow jersey, featuring ‘Bala’ (now 4th) and Rubén Fernández, who currently sits in 8th place. The jigsaw will start to get sorted out on Friday’s climbers’ showdown of the 2017 ‘Itzulia’, the traditional finish up the Santuario de Arrate (Cat-1). Only 139km will be covered, yet it will be a very tough one as the ascents of Elgeta (Cat-2), Trabakua (Cat-2), San Miguel (Cat-3) and Ixua (2x, Cat-1) will be covered prior to the ending Usartza climb, through the most demanding of its two roads.
Alejandro Valverde: “The most important thing today was getting through the stage unscathed and in contention, and that goal was accomplished. The nerves were really high in the finale – that's why you could see so many crashes. The team kept me well protected, always together at the front – that makes me calm and happy. The legs felt just like all over the race at the Vivero; a small split formed right at the summit and I could react and bridge back without any problems. Everything feels good at the moment, and we can't wait for Friday's stage, the real key before the time trial. Should everything go as expected, we'll be up there with the top guys. I don't know which my position will be, but we will be making things hard for the rest for sure.
"I didn't realize about any of Contador's crashes, because I was riding up-front. It's sad to see him fall, but that's cycling – crashes happen anywhere, even more so when you don't expect them, you never know how it's going to end. Regarding tomorrow's Arrate climb: I must say it's one that I like, as I won at that finish, yet it's true that I haven't raced over the new roads to the summit. It's going to be quite of a more demanding ascent, and all the climbs prior will make for a really tough course. Hats off to Roglic for today's win. He's another candidate for the GC, though tomorrow's Arrate finish is a steep one and we don't know how strong he'll fare. We'll see. We better keep thinking about ourselves and focus on remaning at the front when the moment comes."
Circuit de la Sarthe: Castroviejo set for third Movistar GC podium; Dowsett struggles up Avaloirs
It was a brave effort from Alex Dowsett (Movistar Team) on the Queen stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe, over 3,000m vertical gain and six laps (190km in total) of the Côte de la Boucherie / Montée des Avaloirs, in Pré-en-Pail, where Lilian Calmejane (DEN) offered yet another exhibition in his early-season tournée to claim both the stage and the leader's jersey, worn by the Briton during Thursday's effort.
Supported by Barbero, Arcas and Betancur from the start with all energy they had, the Blues and Alex's efforts weren't enough as the man from Essex lost contact with a shattered field with two laps to go, finishing more than 4' behind the winner. A five-man pursuit, 14" behind Calmejane, featured Jonathan Castroviejo, 4th in the day and 3rd overall, with an again-strong Daniele Bennati still in 5th GC after completing his day 43" behind the winner. The José Luis Laguía-led squad remains on top of the team GC, before the race takes its curtains down on Friday with a fast, rolling race towards Saint-Calais.