Carlos Verona flies the flag for Etixx – Quick-Step in Pais Vasco
The 23-year-old came close to his first pro win, after spending half of the day in the break.
In his fourth season with Etixx – Quick-Step, Carlos Verona showed signs of the improvements he has made right from the start of the year, when he got a solid GC in Tour Down Under. Two months later, he notched a top 5 finish in a Volta a Catalunya stage, a race which saw him play an important role on the mountains as Dan Martin's lieutenant, helping the Irishman finish on the podium.
The way he rode in Catalunya gave Carlos a big boost of confidence, which he took into Vuelta al Pais Vasco, an event he's never missed so far since turning pro. On Thursday, on what everyone was expecting to be a grueling stage 4 (Lesaka – Orio, 165 kilometers), the Spaniard booked his place into a breakaway of six, which had a maximum advantage of only three minutes over the peloton. No surprise, things heated up on the final climb – Alto de Aia – a tough wall with gradients of 24%, where Carlos impressed with his smooth style of riding and the attack he gave right before the top.
Even though he was caught on the descent by a group which included race favourites Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the 23-year-old didn't disarm and accelerated once again, building a gap of 20 seconds with only 6 kilometers to go. But as he was leaving everything out on the road, the splintered peloton regrouped and began the chase, which eventually led to Carlos being reabsorbed inside the final two kilometers. That was were Contador made his move, but was soon countered by Samuel Sanchez (BMC), who took 20 meters over the others and crossed the line first, followed by Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin).
Another young rider of Etixx – Quick-Step, Laurens De Plus, posted an 18th place at the end of the day which witnessed a change of leader in the overall rankings, as Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) is now first, four seconds ahead of Sergio Henao (Team Sky), with former yellow jersey wearer Mikel Landa (Team Sky) in third.
"It was a very hard stage, as we rode full gas from the beginning. The tempo was high, everyone was attacking and the peloton disintegrated on the first climb. Many riders wanted to make it into the break, but Sky didn't allow them to go. Eventually, after 80 kilometers, the escape got a green light and I was there. Having spent so much energy in the first part of the stage, I didn't know what to expect, but as the race progressed, I started feeling better and better. So I tried my luck on Alto de Aia, and then once again on the downhill, but unfortunately I was caught each time", said Carlos Verona minutes after the finish. "Of course, I am disappointed, because I was so close to getting a victory, but I want to take the positive side out of this, which is that I felt good and that I'm satisfied with my form. I didn't make it today, but I won't give up and will continue like this, because in cycling you have to try 10 times in order to succeed once and take that much desired win."
The penultimate stage of Vuelta al Pais Vasco (Orio – Arrate, 159 kilometers) will take place on a very tough course, which includes eight categorized climbs, the last one (Alto de Usartza, 5.4 km, 8.4% average gradient) coming right at the finish.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele