Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) confirmed he's on track for a crack at a fourth straight Vuelta a España title, triumphing on the uphill finish on stage 4 and taking the familiar red jersey as overall leader.
The Slovenian had come into the race shrouded in doubts after his late comeback from his Tour de France injuries, but showcased his form with a trademark acceleration on the kick-up to the line in Laguardia.
The short finishing climb intensified in the final 500 metres and Primož Roglič snapped into action as Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) was leading out through the narrow, twisting uphill roads for Mads Pedersen. The Dane could only try and jump into Roglič's slipstream before watching daylight open and having to settle for second place.
Enric Mas, whose Movistar team had dominated the lower slopes of the final climb, finished third, favoured to contest the finish over teammate Alejandro Valverde.
With Jumbo-Visma having won the opening team time trial, Roglič was always likely to become the latest member of the team to inherit the red jersey. Most of the overall contenders finished on the same time but Roglič helped himself to some 13 bonus seconds - 10 for the stage win and three for the bonus sprint on the preceding Puerto de Herrera climb.
The steep slopes and narrow road in the final 500 metres saw some gaps open between the reduced peloton, causing some general classification hopefuls to lose time. Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco) led home a group at seven seconds, alongside Richard Carapaz, whose Ineos Grenadiers teammates Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart finished up front.
Other riders to lose seven seconds to Roglič and the likes of Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) included João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe), Miguel Ángel López (Astana Qazaqstan), and the EF Education-EasyPost duo of Hugh Carthy and Rigoberto Urán.
Those riders conceded 20 seconds on the day to Roglič, who takes a familiar position atop the overall standings, 13 seconds up on teammate Sepp Kuss and 26 seconds up on Ineos' Ethan Hayter, Geoghegan Hart and Sivakov, and 27 seconds up on Evenepoel.
"It's really just the beginning of the Vuelta," Roglič warned after picking up his 10th career stage win at the Spanish Grand Tour. "I always say it's better to have some seconds in front than behind."
How it unfolded
After the team time trial and two flat stages in the Netherlands, the race continued on Spanish soil with an uphill finish in the punchy Basque Country. The short but rugged 152.5km route featured the early category 2 climb of the Puerto de Opakua, followed later by the cat 3 Puerto de Herrera - topping out 14.5km from the line - and then the sharp final kick up into Laguardia.
It only took around 10km for the day's breakaway to form, with Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) and Alessandro De Marchi (Israel-Premier Tech) going clear as a duo before being joined by James Shaw (EF Education-EasyPost), Jarrad Drizners (Lotto Soudal), Ander Okamika (Burgos-BH) and Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
In a fast opening hour in which 47km were covered, Jumbo-Visma - aided by Bora-Hansgrohe - kept the sextet on a tight leash of less than three minutes.
The Opakua came after 62km and saw Bou accelerate away to take the maximum five mountains points - the biggest haul of the Vuelta so far. Despite trying, the classification leader Julius van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost) did not make the break and therefore the polka-dot jersey passes over to Bou for stage 5.
The race continued in fast fashion on a long, undulating section. The pace was so intense that splits emerged in the peloton, with Domenico Pozzovivo (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) among those briefly caught out. It was a similar story up front, as the breakaway split in two with 55km to go, the last trio standing being Lutsenko, Shaw and De Marchi.
That trio just about hung on to contest the intermediate sprint with 35km to go, Shaw taking maximum points just a second or two before Pedersen pipped Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) from the bunch.
After a short descent it was time for the Herrera climb, where Jumbo-Visma took command to set a steady tempo, but one that whittled the bunch down to 50 riders. With bonus seconds at the top, Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) hit out but Roglič quickly responded and helped himself to the maximum haul of three, ahead of Alaphilippe and Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck).
The bunch split again on the descent as QuickStep forced the issue and even Evenepoel hit the front. Things became scrambled for a while before things regrouped and Ineos and then Jumbo led the way to the final 3km, where the road began to rise.
Movistar then took over, placing three on the front all the way to the steeper final kilometre. Roglič hit the front briefly with 750 metres to go but backed off and wasn't drawn out when an EF Education rider launched the first attack on the double-digit gradient section. After a lot of looking around, Elissonde launched his way through to the front, and Pedersen followed, Roglič slotting in after some shoulder-barging on the narrow road.
As that roads then twisted towards the line, Roglič stole a march and jumped around Elissonde, with Pedersen forced to try and go from behind. But despite the gradient easing in the final 100 metres, there was nothing to be done as Roglič did what Roglič always does.
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