EF Education First loses Tour Colombia jersey but keep hope alive

Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez was the main protagonist of stage 4 at the Tour Colombia 2.1 on Friday, jumping into a breakaway on the first lap of a six-lap circuit race in Medellin and gobbling up eight seconds worth of time bonuses on his general classification rivals.

But it was the successful late attack of stage 4 winner Bob Jungels (Deceuninck-QuickStep) that upended the applecart, with the time bonuses for the winner and his third-placed teammate Julian Alaphilippe pushing the pair into first and second overall, respectively. The QuickStep duo now sit ahead of three riders from EF Education First: overnight leader Rigoberto Uran, Dani Martinez and Lawson Craddock.

The finish of stage 4 in Medellin was chaotic, to say the least, as the race's top sprinters were dropped from contention, leaving a bevy of climbers and all-rounders to fight out the sprint finish.

"That was definitely a difficult finish," said Craddock, who was involved in the finale for EF Education first, working to protect GC men Martinez and Uran.

"All day it wasn't too crazy. Of course we made up for it in the last little bit. Once you get rid of all the sprinters and it's just a bunch of climbers, no one knows exactly how to do that or what their role is for the sprint."

Once Lopez, who started the day 12th overall just 22 seconds behind Uran, made the break on the first lap, it was up to EF to keep the move in check. The gap never went much beyond two minutes thanks to the work on the front of the peloton by the team's Alex Howes and Taylor Phinney.

"Obviously you don't want to give your biggest competitors any kind of an advantage, but that's just the way the race kind of worked out on the first lap," Craddock said. "The main thing for us is that we needed to stay calm and focus on the grand goal, which is still the overall victory. Hopefully with Lopez, the time bonuses come with a little bit of fatigue for tomorrow.

"We had no help all day," Craddock said of the chase. "That was phenomenal work by Alex and Taylor. I'm not sure what the other teams were thinking. I guess they didn't think their sprinters could make it over, but for the entire day it was just Alex and Taylor keeping six guys right at two minutes. They rode with the strength of six men today. It was really, really impressive, and that helped inspire us for the finish."

EF Education First director Juan Manuel Garate said it was a concern to have Lopez up the road, but in the end the team is happy with its current positon.

"Of course it's a concern, because he is not a normal rider, he is a really good rider, and to give him for free eight seconds, of course I cannot be happy," Garate said. "But at the same time, we took the responsibility of the race because we had to. We tried to keep control of the situation, and in the end we were kind of unlucky because you are in a sprint with guys like Jungels or Alaphilippe. OK, they had the bonus and the jersey now, it's fine."

In his post-race press conference, Jungels played down the GC hopes of himself and Deceuninck-QuickStep teammate Alaphilippe, saying there are better climbers in the race who will make the most of the next two difficult hilly days. Garate seemed to agree when speaking with Cyclngnews outside the team van after the stage.

"Tomorrow we are going to start to see from kilometre zero all the real big names of this race," he said. "And now we see that the team time trial still played an important role, and come tomorrow we will see a totally different race. There is a small group with all the important riders near the top, but tomorrow is a totally different day." 

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.