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Hyper-aggressive position for the sprint lead-out
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of stage 4 of this year's Vuelta. Today's stage will see the peloton race 160 kilometres from Baracaldo to Estación de Valdezcaray, with the second summit finish in this year's race.
We currently have a five man break on the attack with one lone rider chasing. The peloton are close to five minutes down on the first break. We'll bring you the names in just a moment and then we'll look ahead to the rest of the stage.
Jesus Rosendo Prado (Andulicia), Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quick Step), Simon Clarke (GreenEdge), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Assan Bazeyev (Astana) are the five leaders, while Francisco Javier Aramendia (Cajal Rural) was the lone chaser but he appears to have come to his senses and given up. The gap between the bunch and the five leaders is 5:23
Mate is 3:36 down on Alejandro Valverde so he's now the virtual leader on the road. Movistar are on the front though, controlling the pace of the peloton and keeping things in check.
Starting in the Basque Country and finishing in the wine-producing centre of Rioja, this is the toughest stage so far. Most of the riders will be well acquainted with the climb of the Orduña, which features regularly in the Tour of the Basque Country. The stage then passes through Rioja’s vineyards to reach the final ascent to the Valdezcaray ski station. This hasn’t featured in the Vuelta since 1991 and not gone as high as this on the mountain since Sean Kelly won up here in 1988. The Irishman’s success underlines that this finish won’t entirely suit the pure climbers as this is a long rather than a steep ascent.
However we can still expect a number of attacks on the final climb. Yesterday Contador went on the attack no fewer than 7 times and although he failed to distance any of his major rivals - even losing time due to time bonuses - he'll surely try again today.
You can read Alasdair Fotheringham's preview of today's stage with comments from Contador, right here.
"The Orduña is a very tough climb but once over that you’re on a plateau. The key issue there is the wind, although in September it tends not to be very strong. Valdezcaray is a long climb but not hard enough to split the race wide open."
Back to the action and the gap has gone out to over ten minutes and it currently stands at 10:32.
As for the final climb, it's longer than yesterday's assent of Arrate at 13km in length. There are some 9 per cent pitches at the lower sections but after that the climb eases out with sections at the top between 1-2 per cent. The average gradient for the climb is 5.2%. So, while we can expect attacks throughout the climb, the most serious damage could be done at the bottom.
The gap between the break and the leaders has stabilized, it's at 10:46 after 46 km of racing, while the break is now on the Puerto de Orduña.
Our reporter at the race travelled up the final climb earlier today. He said it was steepish at bottom but then very, very straightforwards, and wouldn't rate as a first cat climb. Also the last two kilometres are almost all downhill, with lots of spaces for recovery.
David Boucher has abandoned the race, the Vuelta website has confirmed.
The leaders are closing in the summit of the climb with the break still more than ten minutes clear of the field. Movistar are getting their act together though and at least holding the break at the current gap.
If you have a prediction for today''stage send in a tweet to dnlbenson
Mate leads Clarke, Rosendo, Martin and Bazayev over the top of the climb in that order.
Away from the race and Bradley Wiggins has said he'll miss this year's Worlds TT. The Tour winner may still race the road race though.
The gap has dropped slightly to 9:44 as the Movistar led peloton begin to provide a more robust chase. There's still around 100 kilometres to race but the majority of that will be on flat roads we head towards Haro, Ezcaray and the finish at Valdezcaray.
The peloton are still on the climb but they're getting plenty of support from the Basque fans, especially Markel Irizar.
Mate, formerly of Androni, has spent the last two seasons at Cofidis. He's ridden the Tour already this year but the rider from Madrid is still looking for his first win of the year. His last win came in 2011, a stage of the Route du Sud.
Martin's presence in the break is noteworthy. The world time trial champion has had difficult season but looks to be improving with each race. He took silver in the TT at the Olympics and despite taking a wrong turn in the TTT last weekend he's the favourite for the individual time trial on stage 11.
Aramendia, who was on the attack yesterday, and then tried to chase the break today, is back with the race doctor at the moment.
Movistar's chase has now eased off and the gap to the break is 12:11. If there isn't a reaction soon then this group could well stay away to the finish.
Movistar is still controlling the bunch on this long flat run-in to the finishing climb. They're not too worried just yet and they'll expect help from Sky and Saxo Bank sooner rather than later. But the break are still working well together. Martin swings off after taking his turn, and this climb actually suits him quite well.
Rabobank have moved their men to the front. If the wind picks up before the climb they'll be looking to split the field in the cross winds but for now they'll be keeping Mollema and Gesink out of trouble.
There's more momentum now from the bunch, with Terpstra dangling off the end of the field. A number of other domestiques have come back for bottles as Movistar pick up the pace once more.
It's not having much of an effect though and the gap has gone out to 13:16.
Dan Martin re-signs with Garmin.
@dnlbenson Tue, 21st Aug 2012 15:13:00
Sky and Katusha have moved closer to the front but they're just rolling along at the moment.
The five leaders would need around three to four minutes at the foot of the climb but at this rate they'll have a much larger buffer.
Movistar's reluctance to commit to the chase is interesting. It looks like they're content to let the lead slip onto another rider's shoulders and therefore save their energies for another day.
There's been a big crash and Valverde is among the riders in trouble.
Flecha has attacked and upped the pace.
Stannard is now drilling the pace on the front of the bunch as Valverde gets a new bike. A number of his teammates have come down too. Sky are taking advantage now, setting the pace on the front of the bunch.
The crash occurred right at the front but Sky are looking to take advantage.
The race leader is on the floor after a crash and Sky, and now Katusha are setting the pace. Valverde has just one teammate with him at the moment. The gap is around 200-400 meters and the bunch is splitting in the cross-winds.
The crash occurred just as Sky upped the pace but there's an argument here that they should wait for the race leader.
Valverde has two teammates and a team car with him.
The main bunch has split into four groups though.
Valverde is in the fifth group on the road, as the peloton swing right and into a headwind.
The race leader has three men with him now, as they swing through the team cars in a bid to make contact.
Katusha have cooled their work on the front so it's just Sky on the front. I'm playing devil's advocate but do marginal gains include taking advantage when the race leader crashes?
Sky have put 1:14 into Valverde.
Let me know what you think about Sky's tactics dnl.benson
There are around 40 -50 riders in the Sky led group. Behind that we have another group of 40, and another group of 30 behind that. That's the group with Valverde.
The Valverde group are brining it back, the gap is at 50 seconds.
Cobo is in the lead group, ,and he's chatting with Valverde.
Apologies, Cobo is chatting with Flecha.
Just 22 km to go so we're close to the climb too. The five leaders are still well clear.
Valverde's group have merged with the echelon ahead of them. The Sky led echelon are still 42 seconds clear.
Up ahead, with 21km to go race, the five leaders are still working well together.
Contador, Menchov, Froome, Van den Broeck, they're all in the Sky-led echelon. Rodriguez is there too.
19km for the five leaders, while the gap between the Valverde group and Sky is at 38 seconds.
Liquigas, a number of their men caught up in the crash, are helping Valverde to make contact. The gap is coming down slowly.
BMC have moved to the front and joined Sky in pushing the pace.
The gap to the five leaders is 6:44.
16km to go, with the five leaders close to the foot of the climb to the finish.
Valverde's group is still at 35 seconds though and with BMC helping Sky it's going to be even harder for the race leader to make contact.
Gilbert is on the front of the bunch, Contador is content to sit on Froome's wheel but the gap to Valverde's group isn't coming down.
BMC, I've no idea why they're working, have put 10 seconds into the Valverde group as up ahead the five riders start to attack each other. They're on the lower slopes of the final climb and Mate looks in trouble already..
Clarke is setting the pace on the front for the leading four as Stannard moves back into pole position at the front of the bunch. They've put 55 seconds into Valverde. Froome could move into the race lead at this rate.
Bazayav has been dropped so now it's just Clarke and Martin in the lead. They have to be aggressive here because the bunch is closing quickly.
It's over a minute now between the Froome group and Valverde.
Martin is leading Clarke while Koen de Kort, Gesink and a line of Saxo riders take over from Sky.
On the lower slopes of the climb the Valverde group has blown apart and the race leader is making a huge effort to make contact.
The two leaders have over three minutes on the bunch.
Valverde has used up all of his teammates and is forced to do the chase work on his own. He's bringing the gap down, last time check was at 38 seconds.
The two leaders have 10km to go.
And while Valverde closes there's an attack with Euskaltel sending a rider up the road. Saxo Bank and Astana have chased. Velasco, Zeits, and Navarro are the trio.
Valverde seems to have the gap down to less than 20 seconds.
Up ahead and Martin and Clarke are still together. The Navarro group has been caught and Saxo have picked up the pace.
Contador is sitting in second wheel, looking back to see who is in the group with him.
The injection of pace from Saxo Bank has split the group to pieces.
Froome, Navarro, Roche and Contador are clear with 9 km to go.
Navarro simply lifted the pace and the rest of the bunch simply couldn't follow. Roche, Froome and Contador the only ones who could follow.
Katusha are leading the chase.
Roche and Froome are just sitting on Contador's wheel, as well they should.
Contador's group have 55 seconds on Valverde. All the main favourites appear to be in the Rodriguez group, Talansky, Gesink included.
Navarro is doing an excellent job for Contador but he looks to be spent.
Up ahead and Martin and Clarke are still sharing the pace and working together. There's no time check at the moment, I'm afraid.
Navarro pulls over. And now Contador sets the pace, Froome and Roche content to sit behind him. Froome comes through and takes a turn, Roche too.
The Contador trio have 7 seconds on the Rodriguez group.
But they've put 1:50 into Valverde.
6km to go for the leading pair as Contador moves to the front. He has a few words with Froome. Roche misses that turn but he'll be happy to just hold the pace.
Valverde has thrown in the towel as Contador's group catch Mate.
Roche has slipped clear of Contador and Froome, who seen intent on marking each other.
Gerdermann, Roche, ten Dam, Zeits,and Roche have now come together. It looks like Contador and Froome sat up.
The two leader still have 2 minutes.
4km to go for Martin and Clarke.
Contador is marking Froome. That seems to be his major concern.
The climb will flatten out soon and Clarke and Martin should have enough of a gap to stay clear. The Australian is taking a huge turn on the front, as they pass under the 3km to go banner.
The leading two have 1:40 on the chasers. Roche's group have 18 seconds on the Contador group which is being led by Menchov and Moreno.
Igor Anton has been dropped though.
2km to for Martin and Clarke.
1km to and Martin jumps but Clarke is straight on his wheel. The German is forced to stay on the front.
The German slows the pace and tries to force Clarke into a mistake.
Martin will lead out.
Martin winds it up.
But Clarke comes through and takes the stage win.
Bazayev will take third. He was very close as Roche leads in the next group but it will be a ride from Caja Rural who takes fourth. He raises his hands, thinking he's won the stage. That's one of best sights in cycling.
The Contador group is home, then Anton and now Valverde, who will lose the jersey.
Provisionally I think Rodriguez will take over the race lead.
That's the second time Martin has lost a sprint at the top of a mountain. He lost on the Ventoux to Garate in 2009.
Not a bad place to take your first pro win. Clarke and GreenEdge will certainly be happy with the result today.
Garcia was the Caja Rural rider who took fourth. Roche took less than ten seconds out of Contador and the race favourites.
1 Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge 4:30:26
2 Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:02
3 Assan Bazayev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team 0:00:22
4 Marcos Garcia (Spa) Caja Rural 0:00:55
5 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:55
6 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Radioshack-Nissan 0:00:57
7 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:57
8 Andrey Zeits (Kaz) Astana Pro Team 0:01:01
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:04
10 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan 0:01:04
And here's where we stand on GC:
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 13:18:45
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:01
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:05
4 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:09
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:09
6 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:11
7 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:14
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:24
9 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:46
10 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:47
Valverde was the major casualty. He managed to limit his loses to around a minute but he loses his race lead and drops out of the top ten.
Thanks for joining us today. Remember you can read all about today's action in far more detail, right here. We'll be back tomorrow for stage 5 of year's Veulta.