Darwin Atapuma's dream of taking a Vuelta a Espana stage win may remain unfulfilled, but as the new leader of the race overall, the BMC Racing Team rider said he was more than satisfied with how he had performed on the race's second summit finish of San Andres de Teixido.
Second on the stage after he attacked the main break late on the final climb, Atapuma could not catch Direct Energie stage winner Lilian Calmejane, crossing the line 15 seconds down on the French rider.
However, his advantage of nearly two minutes on the main group of favourites allowed Atapuma to become Colombia's seventh leader of the Vuelta, and the fourth leader this year in as many stages, after Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky), Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and Ruben Fernández (Movistar Team).
Atapuma now also heads an impressive line-up of Colombians in the uppermost reaches of the Vuelta's ranking, with Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) in fourth and Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) in fifth.
Having attacked with the rest of the 21 rider break in the first hour of the very hilly stage four, Atapuma said he had "not believed that I could get to the finish when we went for it, but I wanted to go for the stage win and that was my dream, my objective here in the Vuelta before the race.
"Now I've got the leader's jersey, it's like I've won a stage. I'm very happy, grateful to everybody, to God and my girlfriend Jimena for all their support." He also thanked "the Atapuma family and BMC for having given me this chance" before rounding off his lengthy list of acknowledgements by dedicating his spell in the lead "to my mother, who I'm sure is supporting me as she has always done."
Now 28 and with five Grand Tours already under his belt, Atapuma has previously shone brightest in the Giro d'Italia where he finished ninth overall this year, 16th in 2015 and 17th in 2013. But the Giro has also been where Atapuma has had his most agonising near miss in his bid for a first Grand Tour stage win, in this year's queen stage to Corvara.
Also on a lengthy break that day, Atapuma was caught in the finale by Chaves, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and breakaway companion Georg Preidler (Giant-Alpecin), and he crossed the line in the inconsequential position of fourth place wondering what could have been. Too upset and too exhausted to talk to the press after the finish that day, he later described his defeat as "devastating…it would have been one of the best wins of my career."
In the Vuelta, Atapuma's near-miss for the stage win has had a very different outcome, and it is very likely, too, that he will be now be able to hold the lead for some time to come. The next three stages are all likely to end with breakaways or bunch sprints, with the next big mountain stage on Saturday, to La Camperona.
Whilst emphasising that Samuel Sánchez continued as team leader, Atapuma argued that he wanted "to hold onto the leader's jersey for as long as possible. Samuel is the leader, of course, but the team wanted me to get in the breakaway too." The result, in any case, will be a big boost to BMC Racing's collective morale.
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