A rider making his Grand Tour debut does not typically attack at the most difficult point of the toughest stage to date, but then Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) does not appear to be a typical neo-professional.
Already winner of the Tour of Turkey and sixth at the Critérium du Dauphiné this year, the Englishman has adapted confidently to life in the WorldTour, and he showed a sustained flash of his talent in the finale on stage 4 of the Vuelta a España, as the race made its way through deepest Andalusia.
Yates' Orica-GreenEdge team spent the majority of the day riding on the front to protect the red jersey of Michael Matthews and when Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) jumped away near the top of the Alto del Catorce Por Ciento, Yates did not hesitate in cruising up to his rear wheel. They was joined by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the descent and with 23 kilometres remaining, they held a lead of almost half a minute over the peloton.
"We've got Bling [Matthews] in the bunch all the time and he's one of the best in the world in these hard finishes, so once I got in the move, I couldn't really do anything," Yates told Cyclingnews as he pedalled towards his team hotel in Córdoba. "It was really hot and real tough conditions there today so I'm just happy to finish really."
Valverde began the day just 11 seconds off the overall lead and his presence in the break all but ensured that they would not survive out in front all the way to Córdoba. Indeed, with Sky among the teams leading the chase, they were swept up with a shade under 10 kilometres remaining.
Riding in the break with Valverde brought back painful memories from Yates' last race before the Vuelta. Part of the five-man winning break at the Clasica San Sebastian, Yates' hopes were dashed when he crashed heavily on the final descent, just over three kilometres from the summit. At a remove of three weeks, he could look back on the incident with a dose of gallows humour.
"When you get in a move with Valverde, you always expect something. The last time I was in a move with him I got knocked unconscious in San Sebastian so I expect anything," Yates joked. "In these finishes, anything can happen, so you've just got to follow and see how it pans out."
Though the Vuelta is just four days old, the extreme heat in Andalucia is beginning to exact a heavy toll on the peloton. The riders faced temperatures in excess of 40 degrees on Tuesday afternoon, and like everybody else, Yates reached the finish with his jersey caked in salt.
"Normally I'm not too bad in the heat but yesterday I really suffered. Today was a little bit better and hopefully by the end of the week I'll start to adapt a little bit, but so far it's been ok," he said. "If you look after yourself, keep drinking and eating, you get into a routine and it's not so bad, so I'm ok for the moment."
Yates set out from Jerez on Saturday with the aim of picking up a stage victory in his maiden Vuelta, and the summit finish at La Zubia on stage 6 might well prove to his liking. The 22-year-old is pleased with how he has coped with the race so far, even if he is aware that there is a long road to be travelled.
"We're at what, stage 4? So it's still early doors and we've got over two weeks still to come but so far it's been a good experience and I'm looking forward to the next couple of stages," he said.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.