Wout Poels won stage 4 of the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) on Thursday in Arrate, Spain. Poels (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) launched a crafty attack over the top of the final of five categorized climbs and soloed to victory in the 151-kilometer leg from Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was second and Samuel Sánchez (BMC Racing) was third.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished near the front of the race to defend his overall lead on Valverde, though the Movistar rider did take two seconds back at the line. Valverde trails by 12 seconds with two days remaining.
“Today was a hard and fast stage here in Vuelta a País Vasco,” Contador said in a press release. “We went 52 kph in the first hour of the race. Thanks to the team, they did a great job showing impressive strength. Tomorrow there will certainly be more to come.”
Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) was the final survivor from the day’s breakaway, but an attacking Pierre Rolland (Europcar) led the the peloton, led by Omega Pharma, past the young Briton low on the Cat. 1 Alto de Usartza, which topped out 2km from the finish.
With a Tinkoff teammate on the front, Contador jumped up the right side of the peloton 2.7km from the summit, springing free with Valverde the only man able to follow. The peloton drew the Spanish duo back and Samuel Sánchez (BMC Racing) countered. The Olympic champion’s surge didn’t last, however, and Contador countered, again with Valverde on his wheel.
Three riders were able to escape the clutches of Contador and Valverde in the final kilometer of the climb: Poels, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr), and Simon Spilak (Katusha). Poels powered away from his companions as they neared the summit and the Dutchman led over the top, 10 seconds in front of the swelling Contador group.
Omega Pharma’s Michal Kwiatkowski defended the gap on the brief, low-angle descent and Poels held off Valverde by one second at the line.
“Contador attacked and his efforts were really strong. But at a certain moment Contador, Valverde, and a few others started to look at each other,” Poels said in a press release. “So I tried to take advantage of this situation and I went. I knew the final from last year as I raced here a year ago. I knew it was possible to pass the final climb and go to the finish. So, I went for it.”
Sánchez came through even with Valverde on time and thanked his new team for the chance at the stage win.
“The team did a real great job,” Sánchez said in a press release. “We kept a good classification with our GC leaders and the option to win the stage with me. That was a pity that I didn’t, but the real important thing is our team is working at its best. Cadel [Evans], Tejay [van Garderen], and I are feeling good and tomorrow we can try to look for a stage victory before the final time trial on Saturday.”
The Vuelta al País Vasco continues Friday with the 162km fifth stage, from Eibar to Markina-Xemein. The penultimate stage includes five categorized climb, with the Cat. 2 Alto de Aiastia topping out 8.4km from the finish.