Wilco Kelderman put the disappointment of abandoning the Volta a Catalunya last month due to illness with the LottoNL-Jumbo rider taking his first WorldTour leader's jersey of the season at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco, after Mikel Landa (Sky) was distanced on the descent into the stage 4 Orio finish. Accustomed to winning the best young rider jersey at races such as the Critérium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie and Volta a Catalunya since turning professional in 2013, Kelderman wore his first WorldTour leader's jersey at the 2015 Eneco Tour where he finished third overall.
Starting stage 4 in second place just one second behind Landa, Kelderman attacked in the closing kilometres and was rewarded with the leader's jersey when he crossed the line and a four-second advantage over Team Sky's Sergio Henao.
"I'm feeling very strong," said Kelderman, having finished the stage in eighth place. "I dared to take the initiative because I knew that there were not many riders who were able to go faster than me. When I attacked, I saw Alberto Contador accelerating. I had to go all in there, but I knew that if I would give everything, we wouldn't be able to distance me.
"We really raced as a team. We were focused all the time and were always in the right place. Paul [Martens] told me during the race that I had to try it on the final climb. I was in the right position and took my chance."
Kelderman's teammate Robert Gesink finished the same front group to hold onto his ninth place overall at 14 seconds to ensure LottoNL-Jumbo hold two key cards with two stages to come.
"We were familiar with the final of the stage and we knew that there was a very tough part in the end," sports director Merijn Zeeman said. "Wilco tried attack there instinctively. The fight is at the highest level in this race, so it's great to see that Wilco and Robert are doing such a good job.
"They are confident and the rest of the team led them out perfectly to every key point in the stage. George Bennett got ill, unfortunately, and had to abandon the race, but the others did a fantastic job. Enrico Battaglin and Paul Martens were especially very important in the final of the stage. The leader's jersey is a nice reward for the team."
Kelderman will need to negotiate the queen stage of the race, 159km from Orio to Arrate (Eibar) with eight categorised climbs on the menu, before the final day 18km test against the clock in Eibar if he is claim his first overall victory since the 2013 Danmark Rundt.
"The race's queen stage is waiting for the riders on Friday. The stage ends up the Uzartza climb. We are going to fight for it and enjoy it," Zeeman added of the team tactics. "Nothing changes for us. The differences are still very small. Even now that we have the leader's jersey, we keep on approaching this race day by day."