While Colombian sprint prodigy Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) may have won his second stage of the Tour de France during stage 4, today's Zwift Rider of the Day goes to his teammate Maximilano Richeze. One of the top lead-out men in the sport, he's often on screen in the dying moments of a stage, but never the first to get the plaudits afterwards.
Now 35, the Argentinean has enjoyed a late career resurgence at the Belgian team, largely in his role guiding Gaviria through the rough-and-tumble of sprint finishes before leaving him to finish off the job.
Since Richeze joined the team in 2016, 24 of Gaviria's 29 wins have come with him at his side. The close connection between the pair, and the interdependence of lead-out man and sprinter, is demonstrated by the fact that Richeze has raced with Gaviria in 85 of his 112 race days this year and last.
Before all this success, though, Richeze had spent the early years of his career at smaller Italian teams. First there was Ceramica Panaria, where he served a doping ban for stanzolol, and then the early form of what we know today as Nippo-Vini Fantini.
The 2007 Giro d'Italia, where his two wins are the only victories ever recorded at the race by an Argentinean, remains a career highlight. But after a three-season drought at Lampre, he has enjoyed a late-career resurgence at the Belgian team.
Since joining Quick-Step he's had his personal successes, including a stage win and the points jersey at the Tour de Suisse and four victories at the Tour San Juan, but his new lead-out role is where he has shone.
Today was a prime example. The penultimate man in the Quick-Step Floors train after Niki Terpstra, Bob Jungels, Yves Lampert and Julian Alaphilippe, he had Gaviria on his wheel for much of the run-in. Come the final kilometre and the late catch of the breakaway, he took Alexander Kristoff's wheel as the Russian weaved trying to find a gap to the front.
1. 1km to go - only Richeze & Gaviria remain, boxed in— Daniel Ostanek (@LVCKV) July 10, 2018
2. Richeze switches from Kristoff's to Degenkolb's wheel, then dives into the opening space against the barrier
3. Around 400m out, look at the gap! Richeze pulled off with 250m to go #TDF2018pic.twitter.com/lW7FPLojyk
After shifting over to take John Degenkolb's wheel with 750 metres to go, a small gap opened up, right against the barriers. Richeze was immediately there, accelerating into it with Gaviria close behind and the ever-attentive Peter Sagan following. Inches away from the barrier, Richeze kept going, dragging his teammate to the front.
By my calculation, Richeze was out front in the wind for 350 metres, with no other lead-out man or sprint train able to get anywhere near. At 250m from the line, he pulled off with his job for the day done. Gaviria still had a lot to do to hold off the fast-finishing André Greipel and wheel-surfing Sagan, but a huge part of win number two was down to his lead-out.
Daniel Ostanek: Sprint stages are far from my favourite aspect of pro cycling to watch and write about, but the actual sprints themselves can be fascinating to re-watch. A full 10 minutes after the stage had finished I was still looking through the final kilometre for rider movements and how the lead-outs worked.
Richeze's combination of experience, ability to find space and then sheer power to out-drag the competition is quite something to behold - as a lead-out man, I think he's unmatched. Before this Tour, the Richeze-Gaviria tandem had racked up wins all over the place, and now they're showing that they're the best final kilometre one-two punch in cycling.
On stage 3 you voted for EF Education First-Drapac's Lawson Craddock as the Zwift Rider of the Day. The 26-year-old Texan fell on stage one, fracturing his left shoulder blade and cutting his eyebrow, but continued on to the end of the day. On Monday's team time trial, he not only finished, but broke through the pain barrier to actively take turns throughout and help his team to sixth on the day.
You can vote for the stage 4 Zwift Rider of the Day below. We will announce the readers' poll winner after Tuesday's stage 5.
Stage 4 of the #TDF2018 is over and done with, so who's your Zwift Rider of the Day? Cousin's combativity award, Van Keirsbulck the last man standing, Gaviria with another win, or Richeze: King of the leadouts— Cyclingnews.com (@Cyclingnewsfeed) July 10, 2018
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