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Tanfield gets first taste of Grand Tour breakaway at Vuelta a España

EJEADELOSCABALLEROS SPAIN OCTOBER 23 Harry Tanfield of The United Kingdom and Team AG2R La Mondiale Luis Angel Mate Mardones of Spain and Team Cofidis Solutions Credits Jesus Ezquerra Muela of Spain and Team Burgos BH Willie Smit of South Africa and Team Burgos BH Breakaway during the 75th Tour of Spain 2020 Stage 4 a 1917km stage from Garray Numancia to Ejea de los Caballeros lavuelta LaVuelta20 La Vuelta on October 23 2020 in Ejea de los Caballeros Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images
Harry Tanfield (AG2R La Mondiale) in the four-man break on stage 4 of the Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty Images)

British youngster Harry Tanfield is on a voyage of discovery at the Vuelta a España, the Spanish race his Grand Tour debut late into a topsy-turvy season, his first with AG2R La Mondiale.

The Yorkshireman moved to the French squad in November 2019 after the team he turned pro with, Katusha-Alpecin, folded. Having established himself as an attacking rider at British Continental level – in 2018, he became the first Conti rider to take a Tour de Yorkshire stage win – last season was hindered by a knee injury.

This year, COVID-19 pandemic put paid to racing for five months, but Tanfield returned to the WorldTour at the Tour de Pologne. On Friday, four stages into his debut Vuelta, on the windswept plains of Aragón, he was out in the breakaway of the day.

The 25-year-old made it out front with ex-teammate Willie Smit, now with Burgos-BH, Smit's teammate Jesús Ezquerra, and Cofidis rider Luis Ángel Maté. However, on a pan-flat stage, the first chance for the sprinters, it would turn out to be a hopeless endeavour.

"Willy was in the team last year and he just roared off at the start," Tanfield said after the stage. "Once the two guys went, I just went through a gap – didn't get out of the saddle, just rode like 800 watts.

"There was just no interest behind. There were four of us and it was a rapid old day. We knew it was going to be fast, so we got the 55 on but I wanted the 56 to be honest most of the time. I think we did a 49 or 50 (kph) average or something."

Tanfield was close – the stage was run at an average of 49.26kph – thanks largely due to a tailwind as the riders raced east from Garray to Ejea de los Caballeros. In the peloton, Movistar also contributed mid-stage, dragging the break back to within 30 seconds with 80 kilometres to go as they attempted to split the group.

"We kept riding and it was good," Tanfield said. "They let us have a decent gap, but we were still having to push most of the time because the peloton rolled so fast on the descents. I think we got three to four minutes at one point."

Having suffered through the first three days – and the multiple major climbs – of the Vuelta so far, Tanfield said he was surprised to be going so well on stage 4.

He managed to steal a march on his breakmates to win the intermediate sprint at Sádaba, the only prize on the stage, before being caught by the peloton at the 20-kilometre mark as Smit kept the last fires of the break burning for few kilometres more.

"I'm surprised that my legs were good today," he said. "The first three days they weren't that good and today I actually had good legs. It was nice to put them to good use. I went for the sprint in the end and then Willy wouldn't give me a turn and attacked me over the climb.

"I tried to ride him back but he was getting a good draft off the old moto so I couldn't get him back. It was a good day out and I gave it everything."