Vuelta a España: Simon Clarke wins in stage four breakaway as Valverde loses to a crash
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vuelta a España: Simon Clarke wins in stage four breakaway as Valverde loses to a crash

by Ben Atkins at 12:22 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
Team Sky and Katusha put time into fallen race leader as Australian takes maiden victory in the mountains

Simon ClarkeSimon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) took the first ever victory of his professional career in the fourth stage of the 2012 Vuelta a España, between Barakaldo and the Estación de Valdezcaray, but the big headlines were being written on the roads behind him. The Australian was part of a five-man breakaway group, which was almost 14 minutes clear with just over 40km of the stage to go, when a crash in the peloton brought down race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

The incident happened just as Team Sky was increasing the pace in the crosswinds and, with the help of Katusha, continued to apply the pressure as Valverde was picking himself up off the tarmac. The Movistar team managed to close a 1’14” gap to just over 30 seconds by the time the peloton was nearing the final climb but, having used so much energy on the flat chase, Valverde had virtually nobody to help him continue the chase on the 13.4km climb to the finish.

Up ahead the leading group was reduced to just Clarke and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) as they dropped breakaway companions Jesus Rosendo (Andalucía), Assan Bazayev (Astana) and Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) on the climb. Despite attacks from the front of the peloton, the two riders arrived at the finish more than a minute clear and the World time trial champion was no match for the Australian in the sprint for the line.

“I really wanted to come to my first Grand Tour and win a stage,” said Clarke afterwards. “Knowing that I could only do it from breaking away, I took the opportunity to finish as far back as I could yesterday to give myself more chances to be free to go away from the bunch. I gave everything to make the break today. I was convinced that my time would come.

“I had to gamble,” he explained. “There was so much wind that I was sure there would be a fast racing behind. With four minutes lead at the bottom of the final climb, I thought we could hold it. With Tony Martin, we had to attack from the bottom to get rid of the three other riders. I’ve worked on my sprint finish in the last couple of months, so I made sure that Tony would take the last corner in front of me.

“He took the initiative with 300 metres to go,” he continued. “That was a long way. I waited for the last opportunity to outsprint him. I’m so happy to get my first win since I turned pro four years ago.”

Bazayev held on to take third, 22 seconds behind the leading pair, with fourth place going to Marcos Garcia (Caja Rural), ahead of Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) in a small group after 55 seconds.

The peloton, which contained most of the race’s big names came in at 1’04”, with Valverde’s small group coming in after 1’59”. The Movistar rider slipped to ninth overall, with Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) taking over the race lead, just one second ahead of Chris Froome (Team Sky).

More early mountains for the 2012 Vuelta and a small group goes very long

The 160.6km stage was to be the Vuelta’s second mountaintop finish in as many days; where the previous day’s climbing was short and sharp however, stage four’s was to be long and steady, with the Puerto de Orduña after just 51.7km, and the 13.4km ascent to the summit of the Estación de Valdezcaray.

Clarke, Martin and Maté jumped away from the peloton in the opening kilometre, were joined immediately by Rosendo and, before they could get too far, Bazayev managed to jump across to them. Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) was not so lucky however, and left his move a little too late; the Navarran spent the next 20km chasing the five leaders before sitting up and drifting back.

By this time, with 28km covered, the group was already 9’04” ahead; this lead was to keep growing, to peak at 11’32” after 35km, before the Movistar team began to peg them back. Maté was by far the best places rider overall in the break, just 3’36” behind Valverde in 55th place, so the rider from Madrid was now a long way into the virtual lead.

It was Maté that led over the top of the 1st category Puerto de Orduña after 51.7km, and the Movistar team had cut the lead to 9’42”. At the feedzone in Miranda de Ebro after 88.9km though, it was back out to 12’14” and, as they entered the Rioja region with 66.4km to go it was up as high as 12’30”.

On the straight, exposed plateau road, Movistar briefly cut the lead a little - more due to the hard work faced by the leaders on a small, unclassified climb, than any effort on the chasers’ part - but, as Maté led over the line at the first intermediate sprint in Haro, with 48.7km to go, it was up to 13’10”.

The road was gradually rising now, as it made its way towards the foot of the final climb but, with several riders taking the opportunity to take ‘comfort breaks’ the quintet’s lead kept growing; it was heading towards 14 minutes as the leaders entered the final 30km.

Chaos in the crosswinds as the red jersey goes down

With the peloton around 40km from the finish Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha moved forward and began to increase the pace in the crosswinds. Almost immediately there was a crash, close to the front of the peloton, with Valverde and most of his Movistar team coming down, as well as most of the Liquigas-Cannondale team.

Team Sky kept the pace up, with several riders from Katusha, and began to further split the remaining peloton. The British and Russian teams shattered the race into four big groups, each with its own diagonal echelon, but Valverde was stuck behind this.

With Valverde struggling to join the rear of the fourth group on the road, which had merged with the third, the front group which contained race favourites Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) was 1’14” ahead of the race leader.

Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo, who’d led the race until the day before, was the only riders from Valverde’s team to be still in the front group, requested that - since the split had been caused by a crash - the riders on the front slowed down to wait. The pace relented a little, as the road turned and was heading straight into the wind.

With Movistar and Liquigas-Cannondale both driving the group behind it was gradually closing on the front of the peloton.

Meanwhile, up ahead, Maté had taken the second intermediate sprint in Santo Domingo de la Calzada with 29.6km to go. The acceleration meant that the Froome, Rodríguez and Contador group was now just 7’19” behind them, while the Valverde group had closed to within 35 seconds. BMC Racing was on the front though, and gradually reopening the gap.

Martin accelerated as the lead group arrived at the bottom of the climb and put Maté in trouble; he pushed on as they tackled the steep, early slopes of the climb, and also shed Rosendo and Bazayev, with only Clarke able to stay him.

As the two parts of the peloton entered the final 15km behind the leaders though, the front half was just 4’06” back, with Valverde at 5’01”.

The climb begins and Valverde soon finds himself alone

The race leader just had Nairo Quintana with him as he hit the base of the climb, and the Colombian was leading the way through the constant stream of riders being dropped from the front group. Gradually, the gap was closing but, Quintana was soon unable to do any more; Liquigas-Cannondale leader Eros Capecchi briefly took the front, but soon dropped away from the front himself.

Valverde himself was now having to lead, with only Rob Ruijgh (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Rafal Majka (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) able to go with him. Sergio Henao was leading the front group for Team Sky however, but the pace was not strong enough to prevent Ivan Velasco (Euskaltel-Euskadi) jumping away, with Daniel Navarro (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Andrey Zeits (Astana) on his wheel.

The gap to Martin and Clarke was 3’15” as Team Sky caught the three counterattackers under the ten kilometre banner, and Valverde was beginning to suffer as he struggled to close the last 30 seconds.

Navarro went again though, and Contador jumped across to him with Froome and Roche on his wheel. Rodríguez put Katusha to work on the front of the main group to try to pull them back but, with Navarro doing the lion’s share of the work, the foursome was pulling away.

The gap from the leaders to this new group was down to 2’22” at eight kilometres; Valverde caught teammate Beñat Intxausti, but was exhausted from his efforts and the rider who started the day in second place overall could do little to close the gap.

Navarro dropped off after driving the counterattack for several minutes and, after a brief dig from Froome, Roche pushed on as the remaining three caught up with Maté and Rosendo, just before the six kilometre banner.

Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) and Linus Gerdemann (RadioShack-Nissan) managed to bridge the gap across to the Roche, with Zeits and Garcia, just as the Katusha-led group caught up with Froome and Contador. This put Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) in trouble, as the peloton continued to thin.

As the two leaders passed under the two kilometres to go banner, Menchov was pulling the front group under the three kilometre one, and it was clear that Clarke and Martin would decide the stage between them. Into the final kilometre Martin was stuck on the front but didn’t want to lead, but Clarke patiently sat behind him, waiting for the German to open up his sprint.

A track-style feint from Clarke with 500m caused an acceleration from Martin, but Clarke stuck to his wheel, then came around him with 15 metres to go and the German had no response.

Bazayev came in 22 seconds later, then Garcia outsprinted Roche to take fourth place, after 55 seconds, and celebrated as though he thought he had won, and Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) led the peloton in at 1’04”.

Antón was led in by Euskaltel-Euskadi teammates Amets Txurruka and Gorka Verdugo after 1’34”, losing the Basque 30 seconds to the other favourites. Valverde was the big loser though, as his group rolled in 1’59” behind Clarke; he conceded 55 seconds to his big overall rivals, losing the red jersey to Rodriguez.

Result stage 4
1. Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
2. Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quick Step @ 2s
3. Assan Bazayev (Kaz) Team Astana @ 22s
4. Marcos Garcia (Spa) Caja Rural @ 55s
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
6. Linus Gerdemann (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan @ 57s
7. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank
8. Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Team Astana @ 1’01”
9. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank @ 1’04”
10. Jan Bakelandts (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan

Standings after stage 4
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 1s
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank @ 5s
4. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank @ 9s
5. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
6. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky @ 11s
7. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 14s
8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale @ 24s
9. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 36s
10. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank @ 46s


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