Raim breaks through chaos in San Juan

Israel Cycling Academy rider finishes fourth in stage 4 melee

While chaos swirled around stage 4 at the Vuelta a San Juan on Wednesday, Mihkel Räim (Israel Cycling Academy) fought through the confusion to battle for a podium spot in the final sprint, just missing out to winner Max Richeze (Quick-Step Floors), runner-up Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and third-placed Matteo Pelucchi (Bora-Hansgrohe).

"I like to say I am maybe the first unknown name in the race today," the 24-year-old Estonian joked with Cyclingnews after the finish in Villa San Augustin.

Räim is no stranger to podiums, having won stages at the Colorado Classic, Tour d'Azerbaïdjan and Tour de Slovakia as well as winning the overall at the Tour of Hungary. But his fourth place on Wednesday may be his biggest result against the level of sprinters he's facing in San Juan.

The stage 4 sprint was no ordinary affair, either, as Fernando Gaviria crashed with 45km to go, in an incident that split the peloton before neutralisation at a water hazard briefly slowed things down.

The day got off to a rough start for the race when overnight rains caused flash flooding that left large amounts of debris on parts of the course and completely submerged others. Organisers delayed the start by an hour to give crews time to clear the debris and let the water recede.

Once they were on their way, a small breakaway went away that was eventually reeled in, as per the usual. But Gaviria's crash during the chase turned everything on its head. When the groups started fighting for position in the final sprint, the organisation was gone and it was a mad scramble.

"It was controlled and uncontrolled, like two in one," Räim said. "Especially the last 10km when they neutralised and then started again, so it was like a totally different race than normal. You couldn't expect anything. Luckily, there were some big teams to ride in the front."

Räim had teammates Edwin Avilla and Guillaume Boivin with him to help as Bora, Quick-Step and Trek all had riders fighting for position as well. No one team had control until the very end, where things got even dicier.

"The final kilometre wasn't exactly like in the road book, and that made the last turn sketchy for everybody," Räim said. "Normally it would be just a 90-degree turn, but it was like two times that on the right. So it as quite hectic

"I arrived in the right position just two seconds too late. The big boys started to sprint and I just had to follow them or chase them," Räim said. "Otherwise, I think I have the legs for the podium here if everything goes well.

Räim and his team will likely get more chances to get it right and test his legs. After Thursday's rest day and Friday's ascent to the summit finish at Alto Colorado, two more days for the sprinters are on tap in stages 6 and 7.

"We'll sprint for me or for [Kristian] Sbaragli," Räim said of the coming days. "Today should have been a sprint for him, but unfortunately he didn't make the first group. It's good because we can have a different tactic. We'll see how the legs feel in the coming days, and we can manage that." 

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