With a long-range attack on the final climb of a mountainous stage 4 at Volta a Catalunya, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) won the day and took the overall lead Thursday in Spain.
“My legs felt good,” said Lopez. “It gives me a lot of confidence, we started the season very well in Colombia, but then in Paris-Nice I missed out on a great victory.”
Two riders from the day’s early breakaway rounded out the podium: Marc Soler (Movistar) finished second and Gregor Muhlberger was third atop La Molina at the end of the 150.3km stage, which marked the halfway point of the seven-day race.
The stage served up two ascents of La Molina at the end. Although fairly long at 11.5km, the climb was moderate at 4.3 percent average gradient.
Into the base of the finish climb, Soler and Muhlberger were the last survivors of the day’s early breakaway, holding a lead of around two minutes on the dwindling peloton. Team Sky was whipping up the tempo on the lower slopes of the climb, soon shedding the overall race leader Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal). De Gendt held the GC lead since his stage win on Monday, but on stage 4, his time was up.
“In the end once Sky started riding a hard tempo it all came back together quite quickly,” Adam Yates said.
With about eight kilometers to go, Lopez launched his winning attack.
After about a kilometer of hesitation, Egan Bernal (Team Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) responded.
Lopez’s pace was relentless, though. Inside of the final five kilometers, the Colombian climber caught Soler and Muhlberger.
Behind, Yates’s twin brother Simon had bridged up to the four favorites, bringing Jumbo-Visma’s GC rider Steven Kruijswijk along with him.
Recognizing the danger posed by Lopez, Simon Yates immediately went to the front to drive the pace for the group of five riders.
“I was feeling pretty good but a bit like yesterday there was some games being played, and Lopez managed to jump off the front and steal some seconds,” said Adam Yates. “It was good to have Simon there to ride in the final as well, otherwise the gap might have blown out because none of us were cooperating that well.”
Though he helped keep Lopez in check, Simon Yates’s efforts were not enough, and Adam Yates went on the attack in an attempt to ride across the 22-second gap with about 4km remaining. Bernal followed the Brit.
At the front of the race, Lopez wasn’t shy about setting the pace all the way to the final kilometer of racing. In fact, he was so strong that he dropped his two companions with the finish line in sight and won the day despite his massive effort through the final kilometers of climbing.
Though Adam Yates and Bernal chased as hard as they could, they ended the stage 16 seconds behind Lopez.
Plus, GC rivals Quintana and Kruijswijk clawed their way back to within a couple seconds of the duo by the finish at the ski station on La Molina.
The climbers will have a respite in Friday’s stage 5 as the 188.1km route will trend predominantly downhill to the finish in Sant Cugat del Vallès, favoring a sprint finish. Sunday’s hilly circuit around Barcelona may be the final opportunity for a GC shakeup in Volta a Catalunya.
“There’s a few teams that haven’t done anything here so we expect to see an aggressive approach from here on in,” added Mitchelton-Scott director Julian Dean. “There’s not a lot of opportunities to take time back, but certainly there have always been changes in the GC on the last day in Barcelona. It’s not over until we cross the line in Barcelona.”
Lopez isn’t losing sleep over the challengers who are mere seconds behind him in the overall.
“We’re not going to think too much about that,” added Lopez. “We’ll see on the last day if I can defend this jersey.”