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GRANADA, Spain (VN) — Just call Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) the accidental attacker.
Yates shot away on the first summit finale of the 2018 Vuelta a España to put his rivals on notice, but he really wasn’t trying to send a message.
“I didn’t mean to [attack],” Yates said after stage 4. “I’m not trying to be cocky or anything, it was just one of those things and when I tried once, I got away.”
Unintended or not, the late-race stage surge had its effect. Yates took back 27 seconds on leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and climbed into third overall at just 10 seconds out of the leader’s jersey. Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) also bolted clear from the dwindling GC pack to move into second at seven seconds back. The young German’s move was a little more calculated.
“I still had something left in the tank and thought why not try,” Buchmann said. “I think a lot of guys still have their sights on Rafa [Majka, his teammate] and that was my advantage.”
The Vuelta’s first mountaintop finale provided the first clues of which riders and teams seem up for the fight. LottoNL-Jumbo, riding for George Bennett and Steven Kruijswijk, took control. American rookie Sepp Kuss was dishing out the pain on the 12km climb. There was a lull in the action with less than 4km to go and that’s when Yates found himself on his solo adventure.
“It wasn’t the plan, I got carried away but I felt good and I saw an opportunity,” he said. “Lotto-Jumbo were running a good tempo through the town but seemed to fall apart or slow down a bit and I thought I would keep going and that was it really.”
The stage saw further settling of the GC, with a few more names ceding ground. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac), Louis Meintjes (Dimension Data), and Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) were among a few of the top names giving up a minute or more.
Kwiatkowski survived the day to defend the leader’s jersey. Sky clearly won’t be as strong as it was during the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France victories, but the 2014 world champion rode well to keep the red jersey on his back going into Wednesday’s transition stage.
“We expected other teams to put pressure on the final climb, and that’s how it turned out with Lotto-Jumbo,” Kwiatkowski said. “I am not the most dangerous rider in the GC: Quintana, Valverde, Bennett, Buchmann, they are the ones who have to put pressure if they want to win the Vuelta. They need to take time on these summit finishes.
“The scenario was perfect for me,” he continued. “I wasn’t interested in chasing down the break, but rather keep the leader’s jersey on the final climb. In this regard, I can only say that I am happy to still have the jersey.”
Kwiatkowski might keep it for a few more days. Wednesday’s stage favors a breakaway, so it’s a question of how bad Sky wants to defend. Thursday will likely see a sprint. Friday sees a punchy uphill finale in stage 7 to Pozo Alcón that could see time bonuses in play.
The Vuelta’s next summit finale is Sunday at La Covatilla. Let’s see how Yates fares if he attacks and he really means it.