Ever the wily veteran, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) claimed another win at Vuelta al Pais Vasco, mastering a fast, technical final kilometer in stage 4 on Thursday. It was his second victory in as many days at the weeklong Spanish tour.
The peloton was shattered by a category 1 climb in the final 10 kilometers of the 162km stage from Zumarraga to Arrate.
Twelve leaders emerged at the crest of Alto de Uzartza, the final climb, and then plunged to the finish.
With 500 meters left, Rodriguez timed his jump perfectly, getting a gap before the fast, twisting corners, riding all the way to the line to win his second consecutive stage.
Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) was second, and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) finished third.
Rodriguez had to change his bike just 25 kilometers from the finish, but was delighted to win on a climb where he had lost out in the past, most notably to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the Vuelta a España in 2012.
“Finally! Arrate had been a thorn in my side, above all when Valverde beat me in a photo finish in the Vuelta,” he said. “I didn’t even raise my hands [at the finish] as I didn’t want anyone to pass me. I am so happy.”
Two riders were off the front going into the final 10 kilometers, Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Tom Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin). Earlier in the day, they had been accompanied by Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
Orica-GreenEdge drove the peloton, pulling back the escape with seven kilometers remaining.
As the field hit the final climb, which averaged 10.7 percent, Movistar moved to the front to set up Nairo Quintana. Kwiatkowski was also present at the sharp end of the group.
Darwin Atapuma (BMC) wound up the pace with 5.7km left on the uphill finish. He was then countered by Katusha’s Ilnur Zakarin. That move was covered by Quintana’s teammate, Ion Izzagire. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) also joined the attack with five kilometers left to climb.
Sanchez was soon dropped, as Zakarin picked up the pace again.
Then, with 4.5km left, Izzagire was popped as well.
With the gap out over 10 seconds, race leader Sergio Henao (Sky) attacked the field, drawing out Quintana and several others. The yellow jersey soon had Zakarin in his sights, and was riding alone, as no others could respond to his acceleration.
Henao caught Zakarin with 3.4km left, but the chasers remained in sight, about five seconds back.
Over the top of the final climb, the lead duo was caught, and the 12 riders faced a fast run-in to the finish.
Henao opened up the sprint with about 750 meters remaining.
Rodriguez hit out inside of 500 meters, got a gap, and rode the twisting finale all the way home for his second win of the week.
The general classification remained unchanged after Thursday, with Henao in the lead, followed by Rodriguez and Quintana, all on same time.
“I wanted to go for the victory to take more time in the general classification, but I am still desperate to fight for this tour,” said Henao.
On Friday, Pais Vasco’s fifth stage rides from Eibar to Aia, over 155.5km and nine categorized climbs, two of which come in the last 10 kilometers of racing.
“I have already said I am feeling great,” Rodriguez said. “You had to be in form to be able to stay with Quintana and Henao yesterday.
“Tomorrow is the stage I like most, but it will be difficult to take the leader’s jersey from Henao because he is in splendid form.”
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.