Despite one brief but intense moment of concern when Nicolas Roche (Sky) went clear in the closing rollercoaster finale of stage four, Colombia’s Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) held onto the overall lead for a third day in the Vuelta a España with a solid tenth place in the uphill finish at Vejer de la Frontera.
“I was worried when Roche” - who finally remains third overall at 15 seconds after taking fourth on the stage - “went for it , but then when [Alejandro] Valverde (Movistar) and [Peter] Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) bridged across to him I knew I’d be OK,” Chaves told reporters afterwards.
“It was a very hard final climb, particularly with the change of pace after so many kilometres of flat, suddenly going onto a difficult uphill with a 10 percent gradient like that.”
After the grinding uphill kilometre attack had whittled down the front group of favourites, Chaves was never far out of the action as the race threaded its way through the un-nervingly narrow, twisting streets of Vejer de la Frontera and then onto the undulating final segment and steep last ramp to the finish.
A good start to that last tricky section, Chaves said, had enabled the him to gain and then maintain the kind of momentum he needed to stay on top of affairs right through the labyrinthine finale and the series of final tough gradients that reached 18 percent in some places.
“My teammates put me exactly where I needed to be when it mattered the most, I was in the front ten at the foot of the climb. That meant I was in a great place from the very beginning of that last part,” Chaves explained.
The earlier part of the stage had not been too complicated, “because although the break got well over ten minutes at one point, we knew that the closest guy to me overall” - Markel Irizar (Trek) - “was more than seven minutes back. Then the sprinters teams started to do their work, and it all played out as expected.”
With stage five’s flat terrain across western Andalucia favouring a bunch sprint, Chaves smiled when he was asked by Cyclingnews if he considered his next big challenge to be the third category uphill finish in Cazorla on stage six. “I’m not even thinking about stage six until I’ve got through tomorrow,” he replied. “One day at a time.”