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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 4 of the Vuelta a España, 170.2km from Baza to Sierra Nevada.
As we pick up the action with 45km to go, a 7-man break has just crossed the summit of the 3rd category Puerto de los Blancares with a lead of seven minutes over the peloton.
The seven escapees are Thomas Rohregger (Leopard Trek), Koen de Kort (Skil-Shimano), Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Matthew Busche (RadioShack), Jose Vicente Toribio (Andalucia Caja Granada), Yoann Bagot (Cofidis) and Eduard Vorganov (Katusha). They broke clear 10km into today's stage and had 7:20 in hand at the summit of the day's first climb, the Alto de Filabres.
De Kort led over the top of the first climb, and he was just first over the Puerto de los Blancares. Movistar have been controlling matters behind all day in the service of red jersey Pablo Lastras.
News reaching us that Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) has just abandoned the Vuelta a Espana. He seemed a little short of his best in the opening stages of this Vuelta, losing time in the team time trial and failing to make an impact on the opening road stage. Clearly something has been amiss for the Manxman, whose teammate Matt Goss already abandoned with illness.
It will be interesting to see what Cavendish's race programme will be in September now, as the Vuelta was obviously set to form the backbone of his world championships preparation.
Rabobank have moved to the front of the peloton since it came over the top of the Puerto de los Blancares, and the gap to the break is coming down accordingly. 5:20 the margin now. Interesting move from the Dutch squad, their main man for GC Steven Kruijswijk surprisingly coughed up time to the overall favourites yesterday, Their line-up still includes Luis Leon Sanchez, Bauke Mollema and Carlos Barredo, riders who may well have designs on stage victory on the shallow slopes of Sierra Nevada.
The best-placed rider in the break on general classification is Thomas Rohregger. 3:18 down this morning, the Austrian is red jersey on the road.
Rabobank are making real inroads into the break's lead on the flat approach to the foot of Sierra Nevada. With a 23km-long haul to the finish, however, it will take a strong team to maintain the pace-setting on the climb of Sierra Nevada itself.
Last year's Vuelta winner Vincenzo Nibali isn't sure if today's stage will have that much of an effect on the overall picture. “The Sierra Nevada is a long climb, it can have an impact on GC but maybe not at all. I’m having a very good first week, so I’m confident.”
Merlijn Jakobs writes in to point out that Kruijswijk's time loss yesterday was caused by a broken spoke on the approach to the final climb. It will be fascinating to see what kind of response the young Dutchman gives here on the road to Sierra Nevada.
The escapees have hit the foot of the climb to Sierra Nevada, and Rabobank's pursuit has been effective so far. Their lead is down to just 3:30.
Yoann Bagot is dropped out of the break and Toribio and de Kort are also suffering under the impetus of Bonnafond and Rohregger.
Rohregger puts in a sharp dig and that puts paid to de Kort and Toribio's hopes. The lead group is down to four riders now - Rohregger, Busche, Vorganov and Bonnafond.
Rabobank's tempo is beginning to take its toll at the rear of the peloton, a lot of riders have already been distanced, including Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad).
Rohregger and Bonnafond are doing most of the work in the leading group of four, but Vorganov and Busche are holding firm for now.
The combination of the searing heat and Rabobank's pace is causing problems for a lot of riders. The main peloton has been thinned out dramatically even at this early stage on the climb. Stijn Devolder and Martin Velits are among the riders going backwards.
Fabian Cancellara and Daniele Bennati (Leopard Trek) are also in the sizeable second peloton. Meanwhile, David Moncoutie has made his way up towards the front of the Rabobank-led peloton.
It looks set to be another bad day for Andreas Kloden. The German has been dropped by the main peloton, after losing 12 minutes yesterday.
Red jersey Pablo Lastras is in another large group that has been dropped by the main peloton. The gap isn't enormous, but he'll have his work cut out to get back on and save his overall lead.
Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) has put in a long turn at the front of the main peloton in a bid to keep the pace high.
Vincenzo Nibali is also looking comfortable, safely tucked in near the front of the peloton.
Rabobank's pace-making has relented in the past number of kilometres and the gap to the break has steadied accordingly.
Santo Anza (Vacansoelil-DCM) is setting the pace on the front of the peloton now, but it's steady as opposed to searing. Joaquim Rodriguez, Igor Anton and Denis Menchov are all sitting in the group and looking comfortable for now.
Anton has now dropped to the very back of the main peloton, which contains around 40 riders. He doesn't appear to be in any undue distress, but this is far from an ideal position for the Basque rider.
The leading quartet are continuing to press on, and Busche and Vorganov are both contributing well to their efforts.
Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) drops back to his team car and picks up some bidons and gels, and then eases back up to the peloton. The sting has really gone out of the pace over the past few kilometres.
It's a cruel sport. Jose Vicente Toribio made a monumental effort to get back up to the leading four riders after being dropped at the foot of the climb. No sooner had he regained contact than his strength deserted him completely. Toribio is now struggling to keep the pedals turning over, and is suffering all kinds of agonies as the break drifts away from him once again.
Igor Anton is still at the rear of the peloton, and not looking especially comfortable.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) are also in this main peloton, and are well-placed towards the front. Igor Anton is still sitting at the back, and appears to be the subject of some concern for his Euskaltel teammates.
Vorganov puts in a long pull at the front of the break, and when he swings over, Bonnafond zips through and ups the pace a little further on false flat.
Pablo Lastras is 5:15 down on the breakaways and will lose his red jersey this evening.
Rafal Majka (Saxo Bank-Sungard) launches a determined attack of the main peloton. There's been no reaction so far, but the tension will be growing in that group of favourites. This could be a crucial moment for Igor Anton if the pace ramps up here.
Bonnafond is setting a sensibly even tempo at the head of the four-man break, but that mightn't be enough to hold off the chasers behind as the pace is rising once again.
Majka has been swiftly brought back to heel as Liquigas take up the pace-setting in support of Vincenzo Nibali.
Liquigas have injected the pace, and Igor Anton has been dropped. The Basque rider has been struggling since the foot of this climb, and he has no answer to this pace.
Nibali attacks out of the main peloton. He had just come and had a word with Eros Capecchi and asked him to lower the pace moments beforehand.
Steven Kruijswijk came to the front of the peloton and pegged back Nibali's move, an impressive show of strength from the Dutchman.
After Nibali is brought back, Robert Kiserlovski (Astana) has a go in the company of Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard). The pair have opened out a small gap over the peloton, and Anker Sorensen is keen for Kiserlovski to take advantage of this lull in pace in the main group.
Liquigas are setting the pace at the front of the main group. Nibali is clearly determined to set out his stall today.
Impressive riding from Anker Sorensen. He has dragged Kiserlovski up to the four breakaways with 5km to go.
Sorensen didn't even pause for breath on bridging to the break, he just jumped again down the right hand side of the road. Bonnafond was the only man who could follow, and the pair have opened out a gap over the remnants of the break.
Sorensen is doing all the work, and Bonnafod is having to grit his teeth to hold the canny Dane's rear wheel.
Daniel Moreno (Katusha) rips clear of the peloton just as the remainder of the break was being swallowed up by the peloton, and he succeeds in getting across to Sorensen and Bonnafond very, very quickly indeed.
Bonnafond is dropped under the 3km to go banner, and it's Sorensen and Moreno who are out front.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) hits the front of the rapidly-dwindling main peloton, while Joaquim Rodriguez is also lurking with menace.
Moreno and Anker Sorensen are now sharing the pace-making duties with 2km to go. Sylvain Chavanel is just beginning to lose contact with the main peloton, but if he digs in here, he can move into the red jersey at the end of the stage.
Chris Froome has now taken up the reins at the front of the peloton, with a very comfortable looking Bradley Wiggins (Sky) sitting in his slipstream.
Under the red kite for Anker Sorensen and Moreno, and they're maintaining a 15-second lead over the chasers behind.
Anker Sorensen is setting the pace on a slight downhill, while Moreno rides stylishly behind him.
Anker Sorensen is giving Moreno an armchair ride to the finish here...
400 metres from home, Moreno stands up and slips around Chris Anker Sorensen. he quickly opens a decent gap.
Moreno takes the stage, ahead of Chris Anker Sorensen.
Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) emerges from the main peloton to take the sprint for third place, around 15 seconds back. That's a very encouraging ride from the Irishman in what is a crucial race in his development as a grand tour rider.
Igor Anton comes home 1:36 down. It's not quite a fatal blow to his Vuelta aspirations, but it's hardly a ringing endorsement of his credentials. The next few days will tell us if this was simply a jours sans or if Anton's problems are more substantial.
Joaquim Rodriguez came home in 4th on the stage, just ahead of Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-ISD).
Syvlain Chavanel battled bravely to limit his losses in the final 2km, and the Frenchman is the new red jesey, 43 seconds clear of Daniel Moreno, with Jakob Fuglsang a further 6 seconds down in third.
1 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 4:51:53
2 Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:00:03
3 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:11
4 Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:11
5 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - ISD 0:00:11
6 Sergey Lagutin (Uzb) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:11
7 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:11
8 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:11
9 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:11
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:11
General classification after stage 4
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 13:19:09
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:43
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:49
4 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:49
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:53
6 Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) HTC-Highroad 0:00:58
7 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:59
8 Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:03
9 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:01:03
10 Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:01:04
Thanks for joining us our live coverage of today's stage of the Vuelta. We'll be back for more tomorrow, but in the meantime, we'll have full results, report and pictures online soon, as well as all the news from a tense day's racing on the road to Sierra Nevada.