When Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal) entered into the breakaway on the opening stage of the Volta a Catalunya, it was never in the plan for him to move into the position of probable overall race winner, but the 28-year-old held onto the group of pre-race favourites for dear life, only losing ground in the final few kilometres and conceding just 47 seconds. Now, with a lead of 21 seconds on Richie Porte (Team Sky), he is just three relatively flat stages away from what would be the biggest victory of his career.
“Before the start of this race I had never thought I would wear the leader’s jersey after the fourth stage," De Clercq said. "In the first stage the peloton gave the break I was in a big advantage, but now I will do all I can to grab this opportunity with both hands.
"I’m not used to leading the overall classification, but I’ll have to be really attentive the next days, follow my opponents and defend the jersey with all I got. The condition is good, I don’t have to be afraid of that.”
De Clercq would have had a much more solid lead in the general classification had he not given up 1:31 to Porte on an attack-filled finale of stage 3, but the Belgian was determined to make up for the mistake.
“Yesterday I was angry at myself because I had lost contact with the first group in the descent and lost precious time," he said. "That’s why I was 100 percent motivated to set things straight in the queen stage. I climbed well, I could maintain a position in front, also on the climb of 21 kilometres I kept riding in 10th to 15th position. When the tempo was raised, [Pierre] Rolland was dropped, but I could follow. On the last climb there were attacks, as expected. I hung onto the same tempo and that way I could control the damage.”
The team lost Thomas De Gendt to a pair of crashes during today's stage, and Louis Vervaeke to injuries from a stage 3 crash before the start. Neither rider suffered any breaks, but both are scraped up.