10/04 - Stage 4 - Vitoria-Gasteiz to Arrate (Eibar) - 151 km
This is the big mountain stage of Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The finish in Arrate is a true Basque classic. The time differences won’t be massive but the climbers need all the seconds they can get before the final time trial on Saturday.
The first 50 km of the stage won’t trouble the riders much. A long downhill section of more than 20 km will set a fast pace. If a break isn’t established by then, it will most likely be on the ascent of Alto de Asentizo (6.3 km / 6.1 %), the first categorized climb of the day. The final 70 km include no less than four tough climbs. Especially Alto de Ixua (detailed profile available) will leave its mark in the legs of the riders. It’s not a long climb but the 4.1 km towards the top have an average gradient of 10.1 %.
Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo will most likely set a high pace on these hills, hoping to tire out the strong time trialists before the final climb, Alto de Usartza (detailed profile available). Many of the riders know the climb very well. It’s not a place where you will be able to take a lot of time on your competitors, but you can’t afford to have a bad day either. If you are not good against the clock, this is where you need to gain seconds. The last 1.3 km of the climb are the easiest ones with gradients of just 3 %. Usually we see a small group of riders arriving together.
The final km is downhill with a couple of bends. Especially the last right hand corner is important. The first rider into this corner will win the stage. Unless you do it like Purito Rodriguez in 2012, when he started to celebrate a little too early and was overtaken by Alejandro Valverde on the final meter. “Lo siento, Purito!”
The two big favorites for this stage are, naturally, the two best climbers in the race, Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde. The Tinkoff-Saxo captain is always in the front group on this stage, and right now, he seems to be back at his former level. Alberto Contador packs a solid time trial, but he knows he needs an as big gap as he can get before the final time trial. So does Alejandro Valverde - contrarily to Contador, however, because Valverde isn’t very strong against the clock. At least not compared to the riders close to him in the general classification. Valverde needs to gain time on riders like Michal Kwiatkowski, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Tejay van Garderen if he wants a chance of finishing on the final podium.
On the final climb on stage 1, Alejandro Valverde couldn’t follow Alberto Contador on the steep part. However, the gradients on Alto de Usartza are not as steep as the other day. This time, Valverde should be able to follow Contador all the way. The two Spaniards both know this finish very well. Usually, Valverde would be the favorite if it comes to a sprint. Still, a well-timed move to the front with 300 meters to go will most likely be enough to win the stage. Of course, Valverde knows all about this and he will be very attentive. The Movistar leader is in great shape right now, and, personally, I think he will win this stage.
Michal Kwiatkowski almost managed to close the gap to Valverde and Contador on stage 1. The steep gradients proved to be too much for the young Pole but he showed to be very strong. The final climb today isn’t very steep, and I don’t think Kwiatkowski will be far off the front. However, as mentioned, Contador and especially Valverde, need to have a solid gap to Kwiatkowski before the final time trial. They will definitely try to drop him on the climb, but it won’t be easy!
Another very interesting rider for this stage is Damiano Cunego. The former Giro d’Italia winner seems to have timed his shape perfectly ahead of the Ardennes Classics. Cunego finished 5th and 4th in the two first stages of Vuelta al Pais Vasco and I think he will make top5 again today. Damiano Cunego, too, knows this finish very well. On a good day, he’s up there sprinting for the win. Together with teammate Rui Costa, Lampre-Merida has a very strong duo for this and the following stage.
Also, pay close attention to Jean-Christophe Peraud. The Frenchman has been doing very well this season. He won Criterium International overall a few weeks ago and now he aims to do the same in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Peraud is very strong against the clock and the final time trial suits him perfectly. As mentioned in the overall preview, Peraud has in-shape Alexis Vuillermoz to help him on the climbs. If Peraud manages to stick close to the front today, I think he will finish on the overall podium.
Cadel Evans did surprisingly well on stage 1, sticking to the chase group on the steep climb. The Australian veteran is aiming big at the Giro d’Italia this year and he seems to be in very good shape right now. Teammate Tejay van Garderen is one of the best time trialists in the race and despite a time loss on stage 1, he’s still within striking distance of the podium. However, it requires the young American not to lose additional time on this stage. The final climb suits Van Garderen much more than the short steep one on stage 1, and I expect him and Cadel Evans to be near the front today.
Good climbers like Mikel Nieve, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Robert Gesink don’t exactly excel in the time trials. If they want to fight for Top5 overall, they all need to attack early on the final climb and gain as much time as possible before Saturday.
For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv