Igor Anton of Euskaltel-Euskadi held off Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Doimo to win Stage 4 of the Vuelta a Espana in Valdepeñas de Jaén this afternoon following another day in the medium mountains that left many struggling, but not race leader Philippe Gilbert. The Omega Pharma-Lotto rider dug in deep to retain the red jersey by ten seconds from Anton, who leapfrogs Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriquez to second place in the general classification.
Mercifully, temperatures were cooler than they have been in recent days, but the terrain still took its toll, and by the time the leaders hit the summit of the day’s biggest climb, the Category 2 Alto de Valdepeñas de Jaén some 7 kilometres from the finish, the race had been whittled down to a select group of 20 or so riders.
That group contained most of the main pre-race favorites for the overall title, including Team Saxo Bank’s Fränk Schleck and Rabobank’s Denis Menchov, although one notable absentee was Carlos Sastre of Cervélo TestTeam, dropped earlier on that climb, who came home 1 minute 34 behind the winner. he now lies 22nd on the GC, more than 2 minutes behind Gilbert.
For the second day running, the finale of the race saw a descent followed by a kick uphill to the finish, but this was much more punishing than yesterday’s arrival in Malaga, with the gradient hitting 23% inside the final kilometre.
Riders including the Caisse d’Epargne pair of Luis Leon Sanchez and Rigoberto Uran tried to launch attacks on that final ascent, but no-one managed to get away until Anton launched his explosive attack inside the closing few hundred metres, with Nibali perhaps making his move a little too late.
Earlier in the stage, a four-man breakaway comprising Dominik Roels of Milram, the AG2R-La Mondiale rider Guillaume Bonnafond, Quick Step’s Dario Cataldo and the obligatory Andalucia-Cajasur rider – this is their home turf after all – Sergio Garcia had got of the front of the peloton, building a six-minute lead at one point.
Before the start of today’s stage, Gilbert had predicted that a break would be allowed to go but insisted that his Omega Pharma-Lotto squad would fight hard to rein it back in, and so it proved.
Meanwhile, there was a blow to Mark Cavendish ahead of tomorrow's potential sprint finish in Lorca with the news that his HTC-Columbia team mate Bernhard Eisel had abandoned the race.
Vuelta Stage 4 result
1 ANTON, Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi 5h 00' 29"
2 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Doimo + 1"
3 VELITS, Peter HTC-Columbia + 1"
4 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha + 1"
5 GILBERT, Philippe Omega Pharma-Lotto + 5"
6 VAN GARDEREN, Tejay HTC-Columbia + 8"
7 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel Xacobeo-Galicia + 12"
8 ROCHE, Nicholas AG2R La Mondiale + 12"
9 PLAZA, Ruben Caisse d'Epargne + 12"
10 URAN, Rigoberto Caisse d'Epargne + 19"
11 MENCHOV, Denis Rabobank + 19"
12 ARROYO, David Caisse d'Epargne + 19"
13 SCHLECK, Frank Team Saxo Bank + 19"
14 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio Caisse d'Epargne + 19"
15 TONDO, Xavier Cervelo TestTeam + 19"
16 TEN DAM, Laurens Rabobank + 28"
17 DANIELSON, Thomas Garmin-Transitions + 36"
18 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 36"
19 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León Caisse d'Epargne + 36"
20 PERAUD, Jean-Christophe Omega Pharma-Lotto + 36"
Vuelta overall standings after Stage 4
1 GILBERT, Philippe Omega Pharma-Lotto 13h 56' 30"
2 ANTON, Igor Euskaltel-Euskadi + 10"
3 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha + 10"
4 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Doimo + 12"
5 VELITS, Peter HTC-Columbia + 16"
6 VAN GARDEREN, Tejay HTC-Columbia + 29"
7 TONDO, Xavier Cervelo TestTeam + 49"
8 SCHLECK, Frank Team Saxo Bank + 50"
9 PLAZA, Ruben Caisse d'Epargne + 54"
10 MOSQUERA, Ezequiel Xacobeo-Galicia + 55"
11 ROCHE, Nicholas AG2R La Mondiale + 58"
12 ARROYO, David Caisse d'Epargne + 1' 01"
13 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio Caisse d'Epargne + 1' 01"
14 MENCHOV, Denis Rabobank + 1' 11"
15 URAN, Rigoberto Caisse d'Epargne + 1' 19"
16 DANIELSON, Thomas Garmin-Transitions + 1' 21"
17 SÁNCHEZ, Luis León Caisse d'Epargne + 1' 24"
18 KARPETS, Vladimir Katusha + 1' 24"
19 PERAUD, Jean-Christophe Omega Pharma-Lotto + 1' 33"
20 TEN DAM, Laurens Rabobank + 2' 08"
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.