Stage/Finish: Vélez-Málaga › Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara
Distance: 161.4 kilometers - medium mountains
Weather: 95F/35C - Sunny
Images: Chris Auld
Stage 4 of the Vuelta was the first of many summit finishes, and it surprised many that the early breakaway stayed away. When fellow American Ben King took the win, it was inspiring to see him show that the good guys can win!
And as always, the result only tells a small piece of the story….
For the third day in a row, the first attack from the bunch became the break. I think a lot of guys, including BMC, were thinking that if the first attack went, the group would likely be controlled teams like Sky or Movistar so they could contest the stage. If the break took a while to go, there was a better chance these powerhouse teams would consolidate their energy and give the break more of a leash.
As cycling often teaches us, expect the unexpected, and that was true today with the group in front getting a hefty 10-minute lead.
We had a reasonable pace in the bunch as we reached the first categorized climb halfway through the stage, but you could feel the tension rising as the gap inched farther and farther out. We kept thinking that at any minute a team would begin to ramp it up, string it out and chip away at the lead. That moment never came and it was a game of defense in the pack all day.
Again, it was super hot and I lost count of how many bottles I drank and dumped on my head. I found some slightly familiar roads that I had ridden this spring while doing altitude training In Sierra Nevada. These were the roads I sought out when the high elevations were still cold and a little snowy.
From there, we pinball’ed through Granada on the approach to the final climb, and I stayed up there over the first couple pitches keeping an eye on Nico. He’d missed his last chance for a bottle, so I was glad I pushed to stay there for a few extra minutes and grabbed one for him and dropped it off.
From there it was into conserve energy mode, but still, there is no easy way up a 10-kilometer climb in 95F heat! I have no delusions about chasing GC here and hopefully will be able to utilize a bit of banked energy when things align and an opportunity appears in the coming stages. Seeing tomorrow’s profile and how today panned out, I think it will be a much bigger fight for the break, and there is also a chance it could stay away again.