AUSSIES drop out of contention as Tour of Spain throws up a popular stage winner, writes cycling expert JOHN TREVORROW:
DUTCHMAN Fabio Jacobsen (Deceuninck Quickstep) flashed past Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama FDJ) and Dane Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo) to take the victory on stage 4 of the Vuelta a Espana with Aussie Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) a close fifth.
This was his first Grand Tour victory since his horrendous, life threatening crash in last year’s Tour of Poland. He was swamped at the finish by his teammates and rivals alike, showing just how respected he is in the peloton.
There were no changes in the overall standings although new race leader Rein Taaramae (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) did crash in the hectic finale. The Estonian was able to finish the stage and will remain in the leader’s jersey as his fall came within the final 3km.Embed from Getty Images
Stage 4 may have been a relatively easy but it was stage 3 that shook up the Vuelta. With an eight km final climb, it was the first real challenge for the main contenders, and it was expected the race favourites would battle it out. But a breakaway group of eight riders got clear early and built up a lead of nine minute well into the 202 km stage. The group worked amazingly well together and despite being strong riders none were thought to be serious contenders for overall victory.
Roglic decided he was not interested in defending the lead and his Jumbo Visma team kept a solid pace but not enough to close the gap. With about 30 km the crosswinds started to blow and the pace in the peloton increased. This saw the gap drop quickly and it was going to be touch and go if the break could succeed. In the end only four managed to hold them off with Taaramae finishing alone taking the stage and the red leaders jersey. American Joe Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates) was second at 21 seconds and diminutive Frenchman Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) third at 36 seconds. Lilian Calmejane (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team hung on for fourth 1.16 seconds back with a charging Spaniard Enric Mas (Movistar Team) leading the contenders across the line 30 seconds later.
Roglic finished in a group of eight riders three seconds further back including Miguel Angel Lopez and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar team), Adam Yates and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious).
The biggest loser for the day was Olympic champion Richard Carapaz who lost a minute on the contenders and will now go into a support role for Ineos teammates Bernal and Yates.
Unfortunately, the Aussie challenge for a final podium finish looks done and dusted. Jack Haig lost another minute and a half on race favourite Roglic and is obviously here to support Bahrain Victorious teammate Landa. Lucas Hamilton (Team BikeExchange) lost even more time finishing four and a half minutes behind the main challenges. It was young West Australian Michael Storer who was the stand out from an Aussie perspective, shepherding his Team DSM leader Romain Bardet across the line only 30 seconds behind Roglic.
For the Australian fans the focus will now be on Michael Matthews as he tries for the elusive stage victory and his tilt at the Green points jersey. Also it will be interesting to watch Michael Storer and Jack Haig as they nurse their respective team leaders in the many mountain stages to come.