Tim Wellens won the fourth stage of the Ruta del Sol on Saturday over Mikel Landa and took the lead in the GC.

Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) was victorious on the fourth stage of the Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol on Saturday ahead of Movistar’s Mikel Landa, as the day finished in Alcalá de los Gazules. Wellens also leads the general classification, as former race leader Wout Poels (Sky) finished the stage in fourth, but lost enough time to concede the lead.

The final kilometer was a brutal affair for the riders through the finishing town, as the road tipped skyward. The peloton faced incredibly steep gradients, narrow roads, and rough pavement. The final escapees of the day’s breakaway, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education Frist-Drapac) and Andrey Amador (Movistar), were caught with the final kilometer banner in sight, as the steep gradient began to suck the energy from their legs.

Wellens came to the fore to increase the pace, as the peloton splintered on the hill. Landa then launched a powerful move that put everyone on the limit. Wellens was the only one able to follow his acceleration, as race leader Poels was seen fighting the steep gradient behind.

The final push to the line was brutal with a double-digit gradient and a rough section of pavement and cobblestones. Wellens proved to be the stronger of the two leaders in the final 100 meters and took the stage win and with it the lead in the general classification.

Landa finished five seconds back of Wellens with Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) in third. Poels finished right after Fuglsang, 13 seconds down on Wellens.

Wellens leads Landa by seven seconds in the general classification with Poels down in third at 11 seconds back.

Stage 4, Top 10

Top-10 overall

The fourth stage of the 2018 Vuelta a Andalucia Ruta Ciclista del Sol traveled 194.7 kilometers from Seville to Alcalá de los Gazules. The route was rolling throughout the day with two categorized climbs coming with 70 kilometers remaining. The climbs were too far from the finish for the general classification riders to attack, thus, putting extra emphasis on the final ascent to the finish. The steep run-in to the finish was sure to cause gaps, making positioning into the final climb key.

The day was dominated by a six-rider breakaway that didn’t escape the peloton’s grasp until after 50 kilometers of racing. The riders covered 49.6 kilometers in the opening hour, making for a very fast start.

The breakaway shattered on the two climbs that came midway through the stage with Vanmarcke attacking multiple times to split the group. When the road flattened out after the climbs only Amador and Vanmarcke were left in the lead. Astana and Team Sky controlled the front of the peloton.

Vanmarcke and Amador entered the final five kilometers of the race with only around 30 seconds over the peloton that was still being driven by Sky and Astana. However, Sky would stop helping to reel back the leading duo, as Chris Froome punctured with four kilometers to go. This proved to be key, as the Briton would be out of position entering the final kick to the line and lose over a minute on the stage.

Movistar came to the fore at the bottom of the final climb to the finish line, as Vanmarcke and Amador were in sight. Wellens kicked off the serious attacks before Landa moved over the top of him.

The final couple hundred meters were brutal with the riders seen sitting and griding out their lightest gears. The gradient was insanely steep and the uneven rough surface made the riding that much harder.

Wellens had the most left in the tank for the final kick to the line to drop Landa and take the stage win. Race leader Poels finished the stage in fourth, but lost enough time to lose the overall lead.

“It was a really tough climb, and after realizing that I was one of the strongest on the uphill in Allanadas on Thursday, I didn’t want to wait until the sprint and decided to jump from the foot of the ascent,” Landa said. “The problem for me is that I was joined by such a strong rider on cobblestones as Wellens. As soon as we hit the ‘rocks’, I got stuck and he just flew over. I tried to increase my pace quickly, but I wasn’t able to up my speed on the cobblestones and he was just sitting on his saddle and staying clear.

“I lacked experience on such terrain and also a bit of energy to match his pace. Still, I’m very satisfied with the result. It was a very demanding day and the team was brilliant, especially with that move by Andrey in the finale. We wanted to take this win today, but it wasn’t to be. The GC remains really close and it should be a tight battle in the time trial tomorrow. Everyone around me in the standings should be more of a specialist for tomorrow’s TT, but I’ll keep on fighting until the end.”

Sunday’s final stage is a 14.2-kilometer individual time trial around Barbate. With the general classification so close, the riders will be leaving everything out on the road in hopes of taking the overall win.