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The final stage of the Ruta del Sol, 159.8km from Ubrique to Fuengirola.
Alejandro Valverde’s remarkable sequence of wins was interrupted by the tightest of bunch sprints yesterday, but the Spaniard remains on course for final overall victory at the Ruta del Sol. Coming into today’s final stage, a 159km jaunt from Ubrique to Fuengirola, he held a lead of 20 seconds over Richie Porte (Sky).
General classification after stage 2:
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 14:37:51
2 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky 0:00:20
3 Luis León Sánchez (Spa) Caja Rural - Seguros RGA 0:00:22
4 Jon Izagirre (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:33
5 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:00:43
6 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin-Pro Cycling Team 0:00:44
7 Thomas Degand (Bel) Wanty - Groupe Gobert 0:00:51
8 Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:00:55
9 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:01:02
10 Luis Angel Mate (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:01:24
After yesterday’s flat, fast sweep into Seville, today’s stage is a slightly more complicated affair, with three climbs on the menu – the category 1 Puerto del Boyar (27km), the category 3 Puerto del Vientjo (81km) and the category 3 Puerto de las Abejas (102.2km). The finale is by no means flat either. The terrain is decidedly undulating after the intermediate sprint at Coin (131km), before a rapid drop to the finish line at Fuengirola.
Not surprisingly, the Puerto del Boyar saw the first break of the day establish itself as Adrian Honkisz (CCC-Polsat), Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural-RGA), Laurens ten Dam (Belkin), Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Linus Gerdemann (MTN-Qhubeka), Tim Wellens (Lotto), Javier Megías (Novo Nordisk) and Julian Arredondo (Trek) forged their way clear on the lower slopes.
Gerdemann led the nine-man group over the summit of the Boyar after 27 kilometres, where they held a lead of 2:05 over the main peloton.
By kilometre 70, the break’s lead had yawned out to 2:50. This meant that Txurruka (24th at 2:50) was on the point of becoming race leader on the road, and that news inspired Movistar to take matters in hand in the peloton. Gradually, Valverde’s teammates started to chip away at their advantage and it was reeled back to 2:00 within ten kilometres.
The break maintained their two-minute advantage over the category 3 Puerto del Viento, and have extended it slightly on the descent. 2:15 is the current gap to the peloton.
Once upon a time, the Ruta del Sol was the epicentre of early-season racing, but the peloton is scattered across four locations today. Elsewhere in Iberia, the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve is underway, and in the south of France, Carlos Betancur is defending his lead in the second instalment of the Tour du Haut-Var. Meanwhile, the action is already finished at the Tour of Oman, where Andre Greipel claimed his third stage win of the race andChris Froome sealed overall victory
The escapees are on the slopes of the final climb, the category 3 Puerto de las Abejas. Their lead is still 2:15 over the main peloton, although the group has lost Adrian Honkisz (CCC-Polsat) along the way and is now down to 8 riders.
Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural-RGA), of course, remains the danger man in this breakaway, and is the reason why Movistar have massed on the front of the peloton to make sure the gap does not stretch back out towards three minutes.
A brace of Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise riders have clipped off the front of the peloton, with no response from the Movistar squad. It seems as though they are attempting to sweep up the points for 9th and 10th over the top of the climb, and thus ensure mountains classification victory for teammate Tom Van Asbroeck.
Stijn Steels and Tim Declerq (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) have cut the gap to the leaders back down to 1:27 and opened a decent margin over the Movistar-led peloton for themselves.
While Movistar lead the peloton, Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) sits a little further down the line with a shredded jersey and a patched up left arm. The Belarus rider was a faller earlier on the stage, but his injuries were not enough to force him to abandon.
As the escapees approach the summit, Linus Gerdemann jumps clear to pick up the king of the mountains points. Once over the top, the eight leaders regroup and begin the descent together.
Valverde's Movistar guard continues to tap out the rhythm at the head of the bunch as they approach the summit, 1:45 down on the break.
There have been no fractures in the unity of the eight leaders on the day's climbs, and this is certainly a high-quality breakaway, with Fuglsang, Gerdemann, Txurruka and the hugely promising Julian Arredondo all present.
There's a long, sweeping descent off the Puerto de las Abejas, where Txurruka is doing his level best to keep the pace high in the break. Any faint hopes of moving into Valverde's red jersey have surely receded completely, but the Basque is still very much in the hunt for a stage win.
One suspects that Movistar would be happy to let this break linger off the front rather than have everything come back together ahead of the complicated final run-in to Fuengirola, which could prove difficult to control.
That said, the eight leaders will have to battle a headwind at the base of the descent and that will only add to the difficulty of staying clear.
Julian Arredondo puts in a little testing dig off the front of the break, but is immediately chased down by ten Dam, and the eight riders quickly resume their collaboration.
The break's lead is beginning to drop inexorably. Even though Movistar are far from full pelt - as Valverde's casual removal of his arm-warmers at the back of their line testifies - but they have pegged the gap back down to 1:16.
A delegation from Sky has gathered behind Movistar, with Geraint Thomas pedalling very smoothly indeed.
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) is evidently unhappy with the pace of the leading group, and he has attacked off the front.
Txurruka brings the rest of the break up to Dumoulin, but soon afterwards, Fuglsang jumps away.
Dumoulin makes it across to Fuglsang, and the pair are attempting to pull away from their erstwhile breakaway companions.
Fuglsang and Dumoulin are committed to this move. The bunch is just 1:10 behind and they know that the stop-start rhythm that was beginning to infest the break would have been fatal to their chances of staying clear.
Fuglsang and Dumoulin's move has fizzled out, and the eight leaders are back together once again, but theirs is an increasingly uneasy alliance.
The cohesion has ebbed away from this break, even if their lead over the peloton remains 1:28. Javier Megías (Novo Nordisk) is the next man to try his luck, and there has been no reaction from the rest of the break as yet.
Tom Dumoulin takes a look around, sees that nobody else is going to chase down Javier Megías, so he takes it upon himself.
Dumoulin jumps across to Megias and then blasts straight past him. Tired of the bickering in the break, the Dutchman puts his head down, determined to carry on alone.
Fuglsang is trying to marshall the change of Dumoulin, but the Dutchman has powered well clear. Dumoulin has opened a gap of 25 seconds over the remnants of the break, and is 1:43 clear of the bunch.
Dumoulin is making light of the headwind and the rolling roads here, and he now has a lead of 30 seconds over what is an increasingly fractious chase, and 1:50 over the peloton.
Dumoulin passes the final intermediate sprint at Coin, and begins the uncategorised section of climbing that follows with a lead of 1:45 over the bunch.
Dumoulin is motoring well here and dealing comfortably with the early slopes of the climb. Given that he lies over eight minutes down on general classification, Movistar have no reason to hunt him down. The Dutchman has played his hand well here.
There has been precious little cooperation in the remnants of the break since Dumoulin's attack, and the Dutchman is continuing to extend his lead.
The peloton has swept up the remains of the break, while Dumoulin stretches his lead out to two minutes. The Dutchman has a 26-kilometre pursuit match between him and stage victory.
Dumoulin has reached the plateau at the top of the uncategorised climb out of Coin. After a grinding false flat, he faces a plunging descent and then a fast sweep to the finish line.
A frisson in the main peloton as Sky move to the front and inject some urgency into the chase. Once again, Geraint Thomas is to the fore, but Movistar are quick to respond to the Sky forcing by bringing Valverde back up to the front.
Sky and Movistar's jostling has clipped another handful of seconds off Dumoulin's lead. 1:42 the gap.
Meanwhile, across the border in Portugal, Mark Cavendish has claimed his first win of the season on the final stage of the Volta ao Algarve, where his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Michal Kwiatkowski has sealed overall victory.
A move from Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) is quickly shut down by Movistar, and then Team Ecuador's Jordi Simon takes a flyer and opens a small gap over the bunch.
Simon is quickly brought to heel, just as Julian Arredondo (Trek) is swept up too. The Trek rider had attempted to chase Dumoulin alone, but was caught in no-man's land for the last ten kilometres. Meanwhile, Dumoulin enters the final 20 kilometres with 1:22 in hand on the peloton.
Belkin have added their help to the chase effort in the main peloton, which will certainly not endear them to their fellow Dutchmen at Giant-Shimano.
All the while, Valverde is sitting comfortably near the front of the bunch, still in his knee warmers on the long, wide descent that precedes the final run-in to the line.
Dumoulin's advantage is dropping steadily, and he will have his work cut out to hold off the peloton. With 15km to go, his lead is down to just under a minute.
Lars Petter Nordhaug is putting in a huge stint of work on the front of the main peloton, and the Belkin man's efforts are helping to slash Dumoulin's advantage.
It's not all downhill to the finish, and Dumoulin is now grinding his way up a short, sharp ramp with a lead of 45 seconds over the bunch.
As Dumoulin's lead continues to tumble, Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) rips his way out of the peloton on the short uphill section and sets off in lone pursuit.
Dumoulin is back descending again, and perched on his top tube in a bid to enhance his aerodynamic profile. Meanwhile, Tiralongo is beginning to close in on him.
Tiralongo now has Pavel Brylowski (Activejet Team) and Jose Herrada (Movistar) for company as he continues his pursuit of Dumoulin.
The Tiralongo group is caught by the peloton, which is not just 19 seconds down on Dumoulin. The Giant-Shimano man has put up a bold effort this afternoon, but he surely can't hold off the bunch on this kind of finale.
Former under-23 world champion Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) is the next rabbit for the peloton to hunt down, and his attack has the result of slashing Dumoulin's lead still further.
Lutsenko makes it across to Dumoulin. Even with company, the Dutchman will have his work cut out to stay clear.
Dumoulin's defiance is finally snuffed out. The bunch catches the leaders and the scene is set for another mass finish.
Buoyed by Roy Jans' second-place finish yesterday, Topsport Vlaanderen have hit the front of the bunch in the hopes of keeping it together for the sprint.
The bunch is still together inside the final 3 kilometres. Alejandro Valverde has all but won the Ruta del Sol.
The bunch separates around a roundabout but merges again without any major hiccups. There is still one sharp turn to come before the finishing straight.
Topsport Vlaanderen leads the peloton through a roundabout and when they come out the other side, ten riders have detached themselves from the rest of the peloton.
It will be a reduced sprint for the stage honours, with Moreno Hofland (Belkin) well-placed behind the Topsport trio in front.
Moreno Hofland (Belkin) duly nips around the Topsport delegation in front and wins the sprint for stage 4 of the Ruta del Sol.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished the stage in 10th place, six seconds down on Hofland, which was enough to seal final overall victory.
Hofland took the win ahead of Nikias Arndt (Giant-Shimano) and a trio of Topsport Vlaanderen riders.
Hofland took the win ahead of Nikias Arndt (Giant-Shimano), Kenneth Van Bilsen (Topsport Vlaanderen) and Tom Van Asbroeck.
1 Moreno Hofland (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team
2 Nikias Arndt (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano
3 Kenneth Van Bilsen (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
4 Tom Van Asbroeck (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
5 Edward Theuns (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise
6 Davide Vigano (Ita) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
7 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Team Sky
8 Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Daniel Hoelgaard (Nor) ETIXX
10 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
Final general classification:
1Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
2Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky00:00:26
3Luis León Sánchez (Spa) Caja Rural - Seguros RGA00:00:28
4Jon Izagirre (Spa) Movistar Team00:00:33
5Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team00:00:44
Thanks for joining us for today's coverage of the Ruta del Sol on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, and we'll be back with more live coverage next weekend from Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne.