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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España stage 4 preview: Racing hits Spain with a Basque bang and a harrowing uphill finish

Hilltop sprint and bike-mad Basque crowds will see peloton shaken to life after Dutch start.

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Racing starts Tuesday?

That’s what a lot of the Vuelta a España peloton is thinking.

The race hits Spain’s Basque Country for a fourth stage set to shake snoozy sprint days and a cross-Europe flight out of the legs of breakaway riders, puncheurs, and GC contenders.

“A stage with a likely sprint to the finish line in a reduced peloton,” race route collaborator Fernando Escartīn forecasted.

“Sprinters who know their way around abrupt terrain will do well and have opportunities, but pure sprinters will not be able to keep up if they speed off. Careful with the possible gusts of wind in the final part of the stage.”

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Blasting out of the Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz, the sub-four-hour ride to Laguardia is by far the toughest of the race so far.

Two categorized climbs, a lot of unclassified vert, and a steep hilltop finish will see mechanics switching out cassettes during their rest-day bike routine Monday.

A finishing kilometer ramping up toward 10 percent provides a trademark Vuelta sting-in-the-tail that Escartīn played down for what will be a rude Spanish welcome.

Tuesday’s Spanish-style Ardennes classic puts riders like Primož Roglič, Julian Alaphilippe, and Alejandro Valverde in the frame.

Heck, any rider, whether a stage-hunter like Ethan Hayter or a GC chaser like João Almeida, could win on a parcours that is suited to so many in the Swiss Army knife modern peloton.

“Stages 4 and 5, it depends on how the climbs are raced, but there could be good reduced sprints for me. I’m riding quite well so we’ll see what happens,” Hayter told VeloNews over the weekend.

That said, the Vuelta has only just begun and time gaps are still slim.

GC riders might prefer to soak in the Basque carnival crowds than hunt early advantages as they save their sidekicks and eye the gruesome mountaintop finish set for stage 6.

But if the Tour de France taught us anything last month, it’s that grand tour racing doesn’t play by the rulebook.

The Vuelta sure isn’t one to stick to any predetermined “script.” Roglič won the red jersey on the very first day of racing on similar Basque terrain in both of the two past editions of the race.

Jumbo-Visma has been happily passing around the maillot rojo for the Vuelta’s three days so far, and Edoardo Affini carried it out of the Netherlands overnight.

Tuesday’s leg-burner to Laguardia may mean that Roglič is next to see red – whether he really wants it or not.

“I don’t need it really before Madrid,” he joked Sunday.