Hello and welcome to our live coverage of stage 4 of the Itzulia Basque Country. Today is the longest stage of the race, running 189km from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Hondarribia, with a steep climb late on followed by a descent to the finish.
The riders are on the move through the neutral zone and the stage is soon to get underway.
We have a non-starter today and that's Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), who crashed yesterday. He finished the stage but has decided not to continue in the race so as not to jeopardise his chances at the upcoming Ardennes Classics. Here's the full story.
The stage is underway and the first attacks are coming. The terrain would appear to offer decent hope for a breakaway but the finale should also provide some more GC action either way.
Nothing has been allowed to go clear on these flat opening kilometres
Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) is on the attack. He's currently alone with a small gap.
169km to go
20km on the clock and we're about to start descending. Bernard has been brought back and now another small group is on the move.
De Gendt predicts big battle for the break
"The GC has taken shape with big gaps, and a lot of guys are at five minutes or more so if the group is the right riders it will be for the breakaway today," renowned escape artist Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) said at the start earlier.
"But you never know with Pogacar and Roglic - they like to win stages, so they could put their teams on the front.
"It will be a big battle to be in there - that's already the first point - and after a big battle it's usually a big group that goes, then it's difficult to bring back."
It's fast on this downhill section and still the situation remains fluid with no group being allowed clear yet.
Anthony Perez (Cofidis) and Oier Lazkano (Caja Rural) try their luck but nothing doing.
A reminder of the overall standings at the start of the day
1 Primoz Roglic (Slo) Jumbo-Visma 8:07:48
2 Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates 0:00:20
3 Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates 0:00:30
4 Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 0:00:39
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:50
6 Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma 0:00:54
7 Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain Victorious 0:01:00
8 Pello Bilbao Lopez De Armentia (Spa) Bahrain Victorious 0:01:08
9 Mauri Vansevenant (Bel) Deceuninck-QuickStep 0:01:09
10 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
148km to go
A group of 21 riders goes clear now.
That group is quickly brought back. We'll soon be on the Deskarga, the first climb of the day, and perhaps that will prove to be the breakaway launchpad.
We've almost done 50km and we're well short of the one-hour mark. It has been net downhill so far but still, a rapid start.
136km to go
The riders are on the third-cat Deskarga climb now. It's short but is steep near the top.
51.1km were covered in that first hour
Simon Geschke (Cofidis) and Mattia Cattaneo (Deceuninck-QuickStep) are on the attack on the climb.
They're joined by Omar Fraile (Astana-Premier Tech) and Jon Barrenetzxea (Caja Rural) but are swiftly brought back.
Onto the steeper ramps and another few riders hit out.
133km to go
All together over the top of Deskarga.
A shot of an earlier breakaway attempt before the climb
And here's Benoit Cosnefroy giving it a go
These were the first three over the top of the climb
Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) - 3 points
Anthony Perez (Cofidis) - 2 points
Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural) - 1 point
The peloton zips downhill. We have a short descent followed by a short plateau and then a much longer and gentler downhill section of the course.
Our top story today is a look at EF Education-Nippo, and how their identity has evolved over the past few years.
It wasn't long ago that they had one of the lowest win rates in the pro peloton. They since branched out into gravel and adventure riding, combining it with WorldTour racing but looking to be more personality-led than victory-led in providing value for their sponsors. The funny thing is, their win rate has since leapt up.
Anyway, my boss Daniel Benson has talked to team boss Jonathan Vaughters about how he's shaping his team and the decisions he has taken, particularly in light of the ongoing pandemic.
Nicola Conci (Trek-Segafredo) and Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto Soudal) are the next to try their luck but the peloton remains in one line.
110km to go
Still no break as we near the 80-kilometre mark.
James Piccoli (Israel Start-Up Nation) abandons after crashing on the early descent.
We're approaching a small kicker ahead of the second climb of the day, the third-cat Alkiza.
Pogacar finds time for a bite to eat
And you can hear from Pogacar himself after his win yesterday.
The peloton makes quick work of that short climb at Aitzo (1.9km at 6.4%). Still all together.
Fraile again on the attack now.
Roglic on the attack!
The race leader decides to jump from the bunch. Wow.
Roglic has attacked with Richard Carapaz (Ineos), who's already nearly four minutes down. They're getting over to Fraile.
Alejandro Osorio (Caja Rural) went with Roglic and Carapaz. A touch earlier, Fraile was joined by Mathieu Burgaudeau (Total Direct Energie). Those riders have now linked up at the front, 10 seconds ahead of the peloton.
Roglic and Carapaz sit up now
93km to go
Curious short-lived move from Roglic and Carapaz there, but they're back in the bunch now. The other three press on.
Fraile, Osorio, and Burgaudeau take a slim lead onto the Alkiza climb
Onto the climb and March Hirschi (UAE) is part of a counter attack.
Hirschi has jumped with Cepeda and Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Burgaudeau is dropped, the Hirschi group makes it over the Fraile and Osorio, but they're all caught now as the peloton flies up this climb.
Cepeda goes again, this time with Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and Ben O'Connor (AG2R)
Roglic was on the move a little earlier
Martin, O'Connor and Cepeda open up a small gap but Fraile and Lopez - active all day - go on the counter-attack once more.
85km to go
Over the top and onto the descent, Fraile has been brought back. The trio have 25 seconds in hand over the bunch.
Order over the Alkiza:
Lopez makes it across as the road flattens out following the descent, giving us four out front. This seems to be sticking...
Finally we have a breakaway!
Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën)
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
Jefferson Cepeda (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA)
Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo)
The quartet are allowed out to 1:30 now and that means after two and a quarter hours and 110km, we have our break of the day.
Quite how far it will go, is another matter. We have 30km of rolling roads before the finale begins with the Jaizkibel climb, then a descent, then the final climb of Erlaitz, then the run down to the finish.
73km to go
O'Connor is first through the intermediate sprint at Andoain, where the gap to the peloton reaches 2:50.
Astana are leading the peloton. They had Fraile in that move but he dropped out, so not sure what happened there.
O'Connor and Martin are the danger men in this break from a GC perspective, although both already significantly down. The Australian started the day 31st overall 1t 4:21, while the Frenchman was 36th at 4:50.
Here's three quarters of the break, before they were joined by Lopez.
60km to go
The gap between break and bunch has stabilised just below the three-minute mark.
The gap starts to come down now as Astana continue to drive the peloton.
Stefan De Bod and Oscar Rodriguez are doing the work for Astana, who have Jakub Fuglsang 12th overall and Ion Izaguirre 18th, plus stage 2 winner Alex Aranburu, Kazakh champion Alexey Lutsenko, not to mention Fraile (second on stage 2), who has already tried numerous times to make the break today.
51km to go
Just over 50 to go and we're approaching the Jaizkibel - our penultimate climb. Martin, O'Connor, Cepeda, and Lopez have a lead of 2:05 now over the peloton.
The break head through Errenteria, not worrying about the intermediate sprint. Their lead falls below two minutes as Movistar take it up now.
Huge surge in pace from Movistar on this approach. The break start the climb with 1:40 now.
Jaizkibel is just under 8km long with an average gradient of 5.5% although that's mitigated by a little plateau in the middle.
The peloton race onto the climb and Bahrain look to move to the front. They have Landa and Bilbao in the top 10 overall.
Up in the break, Lopez attacks. O'Connor can follow but Cepeda and Martin are distanced.
Valls takes it up for Bahrain. Landa is third wheel.
The peloton is quickly fragmenting due to this pace. Mollema is dropped again. Fraile too.
As Cepeda drags Martin across, O'Connor delivers the next acceleration up front. Lopez is comfortably in the wheel.
Pogacar is lined up behind the Bahrain riders.
6km to the top and O'Connor and Lopez are climbing strongly here, keeping the gap at 1:20.
Eros Capecchi finishes his turn for Bahrain. Valls takes it back up.
And now Valls pulls off. Gino Mader is the last man in front of Landa. Not sure where Bilbao is.
Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) is up there behind Landa.
Roglicn has three teammates with him behind four UAE riders - two of whom are Pogacar and McNulty, second and third overall.
4.5km to the summit and the gap to the leaders comes down to 1:05.
There's a lull now as Mader knocks it off and takes a gel. Plenty of looking around.
The peloton has been reduced but there are still over 60 in there.
BikeExchange decide to take it up.
Grmay leads the way, ahead of Nieve and Chaves, who's already more than two minutes down.
3km from the top and Lopez and O'Connor are still out front together, using that lull to stem the tide and keep the gap at 1:05.
Cepeda is caught by the bunch. Martin not far away.
Ineos have lined up behind BikeExchange now. It's Geoghegan Hart, Dunbar, Carapaz, De Plus and their leader Yates, who's fourth overall.
What can Ineos do here? They had a clean sweep of the podium at Catalunya, rolling out the old mountain train, but if they're going to topple Roglic and Pogacar here then they may need some of those more adventurous tactics they've spoken so much about this year.
Martin is caught. Just O'Connor and Lopez left out front, just 47 seconds clear now.
Geoghegan Hart takes it up now
And now Hirschi comes through to lift it.
Groupama-FDJ are interested too. Romain Seigle brings David Gaudu up.
41.5km to go
O'Connor leads Lopez over the top of the Jaizkibel. There's no sprint for the KOM points. Their lead is down to 40 seconds.
Big surge in tempo in the bunch on the upper slopes.
Quinten Hermans (Intermarché) sprints for the final KOM points from the peloton. The bunch start the fast descent just over 30 seconds in arrears
Lopez is the superior descender here. O'Connor loses several bike lengths.
Hirschi leads the bunch down, McNulty and Pogacar following his lines.
36.5km to go
O'Connor comes back to Lopez on a brief plateau on this descent.
Now for the second part of the descent, followed by a few km on the flat and then our tough final climb.
The two leaders are holding the bunch at 30 seconds at the moment but they're bound to shed time once the road flattens out and once the bunch hits that final climb.
Two more UAE riders have managed to come through so they now have five on the nose. Roglic is behind them, with three teammates behind him.
The Erlaitz climb is only a few kilometres long but it's devilishly steep, with an average gradient in the double digits.
We're only a few kilometres away now. O'Connor and Lopez are holding their gap on the flat approach.
It's followed by a tough section beyond the summit before the descent actually starts, and the descent itself is followed by a few kilometres on the flat. Will we see fireworks?
The tempo in the bunch now picks up as they near the base of Erlaitz. Just 15 seconds now for the two leaders. Israel look interested now.
O'Connor and Lopez are going to be caught at the base of the climb here.
25.8km to go
Here we go! The climb begins and the bunch is on their coattails.
O'Connor immediately relents but Lopez is determined to crack on
Lopez grimaces as the gradient bites. A brave effort but he's caught now.
The bunch immediately explodes on these double-digit gradients
UAE take it up through Ulissi. Roglic is third wheel behind his teammate Foss.
The pace is steady at the moment. No one looking to attack.
Still more than 40 in the front portion of the peloton as Ulissi continues to lead the way
But now Fuglsang attacks
Carapaz goes after it. Pogacar following
Valverde jumps on Pogacar's wheel. Roglic is slow to it but now drags himself across.
The Spaniard quickly opens a gap. Chaves responding now.
Pogacar is following Chaves. Roglic there too.
Landa with a small gap as the bunch whittles down to around 20 now.
Chaves accelerates again and the rest ease up!
McNulty decides to go after Chaves. Pogacar sits back for now.
McNulty gaps Chaves in making it across to Landa, but the three of them join forces now.
Jumbo look to get things under control behind but the gap has opened.
McNulty takes it up and Chaves is losing the wheel. Landa is there.
Still 1.8km from the top here and the gap is only several seconds.
McNulty continues to lead the way here, with Landa in behind. Chaves is fighting but still off the wheel.
Schachmann is dropped
Chaves has definitively lost contact with the front two now.
Mas and Carapaz are dropped now as well.
1km to the top for McNulty and Landa.
McNulty is third overall at 30 seconds. His teammate Pogacar is second overall and this is putting pressure on Roglic and his teammates.
Carthy is swinging towards the back of the GC group
Jumbo are keeping the gap at several seconds. Chaves is back in that GC group now.
Tolhoek has been dropped. That's one down for Jumbo. Vingegaard, sixth overall, is leading the GC group now.
Higuita, 11th overall, dropped.
Huge turn by Vingegaard, who's closing the gap to McNulty and Landa at the top of the climb
What a season Vingegaard is having.
Gap closed. McNulty and Landa are brought to heel. But McNulty kicks again
22km to go
McNulty leads them over the top of Erlaitz, followed by Landa and Vingegaard. Who's going to take it up on the descent?
McNulty attacks on the descent
Vingegaard goes after McNulty once more. Only around 15 riders left in this GC group.
Chaves attacks now.
This is the rolling section at the top, so we're not yet on the descent proper.
Bilbao goes after Chaves.
Four riders have gone after Bilbao and Chaves. It's McNulty, Izaguirre, Buchmann, and Vingegaard.
Big gaps opening now!
McNulty is riding really aggressively here and his quarter is nearly with Chaves and Bilbao. Big gap to the rest of the GC group.
Roglic is at the back of that GC group. Pogacar is leading it but I'm not sure why - he could let McNulty sail away here.
Pogacar is clearly not pressing on and Carthy now hits the front to raise it. His teammate Higuita is back.
25 seconds is the gap!
So at the front we have six riders: Chaves, Bilbao, McNulty, Vingegaard, Izaguirre, Buchmann.
In the chase at 22 seconds are: Roglic, Pogacar, Carthy, Higuita, Gaudu, Yates, Vansevenant, Yates, Valverde, Fuglsang, Landa, Van Wilder.
15.5km to go
We're on the descent proper now. Carthy continues to drill it on the front of the chase group. Higuita will clearly fancy his chances in a sprint.
A fascinating one, this. Roglic does have one teammate with him in that chase group - Tolhoek I think - but it's Carthy doing the work.
28 seconds now!
This isn't too fast a descent - plenty of pedalling sections. Vingegaard is sat on the back of the lead group, with Roglic in the group behind. The onus is on McNulty to press on.
Valverde attacks on the descent.
Higuita springs into responds. It's lined out now at 75km/h on a steeper section.
29 seconds is the gap now. McNulty is almost into the virtual overall lead
Valverde brings his effort to a close. Tolhoek finds himself on the front but now Carthy comes through again.
10km to go
The gap rises to 30 seconds. McNulty is the virtual leader.
A complete lull in the chase and Gaudu attacks now.
Valverde goes after him, then Fuglsang, and now Pogacar
Pogacar sense a gap to Roglic and accelerates
Pogacar quickly knocks it off. He has McNulty up the road and can only accelerate if Roglic is gapped.
Knox attacks now
8km to go
35 seconds is the gap now.
Knox quickly opens a big gap.
Tolhoek has finally taken up the chase
But he eases up and Valverde shoots past.
Correction. It's Enric Mas, who has just got back in on the descent and has immediately gone off the front.
Chaves, Bilbao, and Izaguirre are working hard up front, which McNulty will be pleased to see. Buchmann comes through now. In fact it's a committed group with the obvious exception of Vingegaard.
5.5km to go
The gap reaches 42 seconds.
Another huge lull in the chase as more dropped riders get back in
Not sure what Jumbo are doing here. Tolhoek has barely chased here. They have Vingegaard up front but he's 24 seconds down on McNulty, who's riding into the overall lead.
Tohoek goes hit the front now, but this is not a concerted chase. More looking around.
4km to go
The gap reaches one minute
Israel and Total riders on the attack behind now.
Ineos take it up behind.
2.5km to go
We approach the final 2,000 metres and the winner is going to come from this front group of six.
McNulty helps keep the pace high
1.8km to go
Mas now takes up the chase. Carapaz as well.
The leaders are back together. 55 seconds the gap
Buchmann goes again. McNulty goes after it.
Into the final kilometre. Gap 50 seconds
Chaves attacks next!
No immediate response!
McNutlty picks it up
Chaves is away but still 500m to go
Buchmann leads the chase now. 300 to go!
Izaguirre sprints for it
Izaguirre gets it, just ahead of Bilbao!
McNulty pips Vingegaard for third place and the last bonus seconds.
Here comes the chase. What will the final gap be?
Knox and Bevin cross the line with a tiny gap over the rest of the GC group.
Ion Izaguirre (Astana-Premier Tech) wins stage 4 of Itzulia Basque Country
Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates) is the new overall leader
The gap was around 50 seconds on the line, with McNulty gaining four in bonuses. That puts him top of the standings, around 24 seconds up on Roglic. Pogacar now at around 44 seconds but Vingegaard and Bilbao will have leapfrogged him.
1 Ion Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana-Premier Tech 4:17:07
2 Pello Bilbao Lopez De Armentia (Spa) Bahrain Victorious
3 Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates
4 Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma
5 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe
6 Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Team BikeExchange 0:00:02
7 Patrick Bevin (NZl) Israel Start-up Nation 0:00:49
8 James Knox (GBr) Deceuninck-QuickStep
9 Quinten Hermans (Bel) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux
10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
General classification after stage 4
1 Brandon McNulty (USA) UAE Team Emirates 12:25:21
2 Primoz Roglic (Slo) Jumbo-Visma 0:00:23
3 Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma 0:00:28
4 Pello Bilbao Lopez De Armentia (Spa) Bahrain Victorious 0:00:36
5 Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates 0:00:43
6 Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers 0:01:02
7 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:01:07
8 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:13
9 Ion Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Astana-Premier Tech 0:01:15
10 Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain Victorious 0:01:23
The bike throw won it for Izaguirre. Bilbao asked to see the replays as he seemed convinced he'd got it.
What to make of that?
After Deceuninck-QuickStep at Scheldeprijs yesterday, questions will be asked of Jumbo-Visma, who hand the leader's jersey over to UAE and Brandon McNulty. Tolhoek found himself on the front of the chase group at various points but you can't really say he ever chased, and neither did Roglic himself work to reduce the arrears. Maybe they content to let it go - they had Vingegaard up front and were perhaps even playing poker with Pogacar to see how happy he was to let his teammate take charge in those circumstances.
But Vingegaard couldn't even deny McNutly the bonuses, nevermind win the stage after sitting on for so long. With one crucial stage remaining - Saturday's final stage to Arrate - Jumbo have two riders in the top 3, while UAE have spots 1 and 4. Perhaps Roglic is confident of putting significant time into McNulty on Arrate, but that was certainly a strange approach from a team who would normally be expected to control that situation today.
McNulty's attack on Erlaitz.
Plenty more photos, plus results, at our report page.
Brandon McNulty is the second US rider in history, after Chris Horner in 2010, to lead the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.April 8, 2021
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