Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 4 Preview

The Shark surfaces! Vincenzo Nibali breaks clear of the peloton in the final 400m to snatch a decisive stage win as Froome moves into the leader’s jersey for only the second time in his career. Today sees the riders tackle a much tamer stage through Catalonia, the fastmen eager to show off their speed…

Froome and Chaves light up the final climb. CREDIT: CorVos

Stage Three Review

Only three stages for this year’s Vuelta to hit the mountains and what a treat it delivered, the GC contenders waging their first battle on the final Cat 2 slopes.

A strong breakaway group of eight riders managed to escape clear from the peloton, the prospect of KOM points at the forefront of their minds. Infighting as they approached the Rabassa soon slashed their lead and by the foot of the final Cat 2 climb, their chances of a stage win were doomed.

As the race hit the foot of the final climb, Gianni Moscon of team Sky launched a searing pace at the head of the peloton, soon shedding big names off the back. Contador and Majka couldn’t deal with the infernal speed and were soon jettisoned, their hopes of GC glory dwindling with each pedal stroke.

With Moscon’s work done, Chris Froome instantly attacked over the top with 7.9km of the stage remaining. Only Chaves could answer the attack as all others were left squabbling over who would chase.

Aru and Bardet caught the pair on the descent and the quartet went into the final kilometre together, the stage win looking certain to come from one of them. With around 700m remaining, the second group on the road caught the leaders, bringing Nibali, De la Cruz and Roche back into contention.

Froome dons only the second red jersey of his career. CREDIT: CorVos

As the pace slowed at the front, Nibali capatilised and put in one last dig for the line. The move snapped the elastic and the Italian took the stage with several bike lengths in hand over the rest of the competition.

Froome finished third and snatched enough bonus seconds to propel himself to first overall, pulling on the second red jersey of his career…

Stage Four Preview

After straying away from the tradition grand tour first week formula yesterday, we’re now back on track with a more traditional sprinters stage, one that should more than likely be taken in a bunch kick to the line…

Stage 4 Profile. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

A long and sweltering day in the saddle lays in wait for the riders today, a Cat 3 climb the only break in the gradual downhill all the way to the finish line in Tarragona.

With still weather and beating sunshine, the riders are going to be in for a treat as they make their way through the first 100km of the route, a breakaway the only likely threat of action in the first half of the day.

As the riders reach the 119th kilometre, they’ll face down the modest climb of Alto de Belltall, a gradual climb that shouldn’t worry the majority of the peloton’s sprinters.

The descent on the following side is a little steeper and should allow the peloton to carry some quick momentum into the final 50km of the stage.

As the race approaches the coastal town of Tarragona, a tricky final will start to instill nerves into the bunch, creating a fierce fight for positioning.

A complicated final kilometre… CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

From the fifth to final kilometre, the peloton will have a perfect opportunity to start forming their leadouts. The roads are wide and straight enough to accomodate several teams and we should be in store for one massive drag race to the line.

That is, however, if the roundabouts and final kilometre don’t upset proceedings. No less than five roundabouts from 5km-1km to go will make positioning crucial and could potentially scupper a few of the sprinter’s trains.

That being said, this isn’t a finish that really requires a leadout train to string things out, the technical nature of the final kilometre means one or two teammates ahead may be the most beneficial tactic.

A false flat all the way to the finish line… CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

The riders will weave and wind until the final 500m where they will then face the final rise to the line, a 4% climb to the finish. Gilbert was the last rider to win on a similar finish in Tarragona back in 2013, emphasising the type of rider that excels here…

The Sprinter’s Gameplan

The Vuelta is often a race where the breakaway can reap big rewards on stages like today’s. However, with so few opportunities for the fastmen over the next couple of weeks, none of the big sprinting teams are going to allow any escape much leeway.

Quickstep, Trek, possibly even Aqua Blue, will all mob the front of the bunch in an attempt to curb the breakaways lead, bringing the peloton all back together for the decisive final 10km.

All in for Adam Blythe… CREDIT: RoadCyclingUK

Aside from the final kilometre, the lead-up to the finish is very simple, long straight roads that should be perfect for the formation of leadout trains. In terms of leadout, Quickstep are undeniably the strongest, Lampaert, Terpstra and Alaphilippe perfect allies for Trentin in this finale.

Aqua Blue are also surprisingly strong in this aspect, a contingent of strong rouleurs all devoted to propelling Adam Blythe to a maiden grand tour stage victory.

The strength of a leadout will only get riders so far in this stage however, once under the flamme rouge, it should become mano a mano, one big slugfest to get up the final false flat. Teammates will act as great foils here, but it will essentially come down to every man for himself in this twisty finale…

The Contenders

Such a tricky finish makes this a perfect stage for both sprinters and puncheurs alike; fortunately, the fastmen that have chosen to ride the Vuelta all possess strong uphill qualities. After his second place on stage 2’s crosswind ravaged finish, Matteo Trentin goes into today’s stage as the unquestionable favourite.

The Italian is a punchy finisher and brilliant one day racer, clearly possessing a savvy tactical brain. The finale of today’s stage is all about tactics, and not necessarily who can scramble up the final climb the quickest. Poll position through the corners will be vital and Trentin shouldn’t struggle for such space, given the quality of riders that he has to help him.

Trentin or Alaphilippe, Quickstep have some big decisions to make today. CREDIT: SBS

Another Quickstep rider that may go well here is Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe. Whilst all the top sprinters may fill the roster of main favourites, one has to remember that it was a certain Philippe Gilbert who last won in Tarragona on a similar uphill drag. 500m at 4% is a tough ordeal and could see many of the top fastmen falter before they reach the finish; step forward the puncheurs!

Alaphilippe has come to this race with an eye on the green points jersey; strong finishes on the TTT and stage 2 now mean that he’s up there for contention, a win today possibly propelling him into the coveted apparel… Remember Milan San Remo this year, the young Frenchman managed to hold his own in a sprint with Peter Sagan; give him an uphill finish and the Vuelta will soon become his playground.

Missing from the sprint on stage 2, John Degenkolb will be hoping for some better luck on today’s stage. In his absence, Edward Theuns was the Trek rider to sprint for the win and the big German will be hoping that that doesn’t become the custom for the rest of this race.

Aside from being a top bunch sprinter, Degenkolb can also hold his own on tough uphill ramps, a win on the infamous Hatta Dam in the Dubai Tour testament to this. His raw power is simply incredible and given a flat out race with a fair start, he would stamp all over the opposition.

Degenkolb hauls himself up Hatta Dam, beating specialist finishers such as Alejandro Valverde to the line. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

His weakness lies within his own team, Theuns almost reluctantly serving as his leadout man for this three week race. Both of them will have personal ambitions for this stage, and whoever is feeling the freshest will likely get the go-ahead from Trek to sprint for the win.

Another rider to also win the slog up the infamous Hatta Dam is Lotto NL Jumbo’s Juan Jose Lobato. The Spanish rider has been relatively innocuous of late and hasn’t yet landed a big win for his new Dutch team. He has the speed to contend on a finish like today’s, but only if he can find himself in a favourable position.

With a lack of team support in the finale, he will need to avoid being boxed in on any of the numerous corners in the final kilometre. A podium position today could show marked improvements for the Spanish rider, foreshadowing some strong form to come.

A third place on the first sprint stage of this Vuelta will undoubtedly give former British champion, Adam Blythe, some new found confidence. The Aqua Blue rider cunningly attached himself onto the back of the Quickstep train to find himself on the favourable side of the decisive split in the finale of stage 2.

Olympic champion turned Vuelta stage winner? Lasse Norman Hansen. CREDIT: DR

In the sprint for the line, it was only Trentin who could beat him for speed, indicating that Blythe is riding into an extremely strong run of form. He’s no stranger to uphill finishes and has scored some of his best results this year on such parcours, notably his second place in the Nokere Koerse classic.

His teammate, Lasse Norman Hansen, could potentially prove to be a great foil on today’s stage. The Danish rider is accustomed to day long breakaways and stinging late attacks, 2017 proving to be one of his greatest years to date for such exploits. An attack into the twisty final kilometre could just secure Aqua Blue sport their greatest win to date…

Other riders worthy of a mention for today’s testing finish include, Magnus Cort Nielsen, Jonas Van Genechten and Sacha Modolo; all top sprinters that are yet to really make their mark on this Vuelta a Espana…

Race Prediction

Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the most tactically savvy team of them all? Answer: Quickstep!

The boys in blue are some of the most tactically astute riders in the peloton and pride themselves on orchestrating spectacles for adoring fans. They ripped up the roadbook on stage 2 and crushed the competition with a late split, will they choose to do a similar thing on today’s stage…yes!

Alaphilppe as he hears his name screamed by adoring fans…and me. CREDIT: GettyImages

They have the power to string out the whole bunch and put pressure on the other sprinting teams, even shooting some riders straight out of the back. They’ll mob the head of the bunch and use Terpstra to start pacing the group into the final kilometre.

From there, it will be up to Trentin and Alaphilippe to bring home the stage win. The latter may fancy himself more for this type of finish and the Italian will be conscripted to his surface.

Julian Alaphilippe to take the stage win into Tarragona!

Who do you think will take today’s stage? Agree with our prediction? If you enjoyed this stage preview, make sure you’re following InsideThePeloton on Twitter for all further updates on this year’s Vuelta! Any feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated…