Strong team effort on Volta a Catalunya tough day
Etixx – Quick-Step's Daniel Martin lies in fourth overall with three days left to go.
A huge breakaway made its way to the lead of stage 4 in Volta a Catalunya (Baga – Port Ainé, 172.2 km) after 20-odd kilometers from the start and worked hard to build a huge lead of more than 10 minutes: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Boris Dron (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Ruben Plaza (Orica-GreenEdge), Ben Swift (Team Sky), Laurens ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin, Alexey Tsatevich (Katusha) and Pieter Weening (Roompot Oranje).
After the escape was established, Etixx – Quick-Step moved to the front of the peloton to protect Daniel Martin, the 29-year-old Irishman who was leading the standings following his impressive victory on La Molina, one day earlier. Thanks to the strong pace, the advantage of the riders in the break began to melt halfway through the stage, and on the first slopes of Port Ainé, the day's final climb, they kept less than seven minutes in hand.
In the end, the victory was taken by one of the escapees – Thomas De Gendt – who wasn't a threat for the general classification guys, as he was way behind them at the start of the day. Second came Nairo Quintana (Movistar), after the Colombian attacked from the bunch with around two kilometers to go, the podium being rounded out by Richie Porte (BMC), just ahead of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).
The ascent was a hard one, just as Dan Martin has expected, but he managed to limit the losses thanks to the great effort made by the team, with Carlos Verona digging deep at the front of the pack and protecting his leader on the steep part of Port Ainé. Martin gave his all when the action kicked-off and came 10th on the stage, a result which means he's now fourth in the GC, less than 30 seconds behind the leader.
At the finish, after catching his breath, Dan talked of how the day went on the race's toughest climb and what's next for Etixx – Quick-Step in Volta a Catalunya: "The team rode incredible today. It's such a young team, but the guys controlled the race like seasoned pros. We had no help all day, but still controlled the race with style and strength. I am very proud of how the boys rode. Of course, I'm disappointed to lose the jersey after the hard work of the team, but I have to be happy with our position after the mountains. The race is for sure not over, and even though it will be difficult to take so much time on Quintana, we will look for opportunities. There's still three hard days of racing left, the team is going really good, so hopefully we can look for more results after what is already a successful week for us."
Stage 5 (Rialp – Valls, 187.2 km) will take place on a rolling terrain, which features two medium categorized climbs: Port d'Ager (9.6 km, 5%) and Alt de Lilla (4.1 km, 4.8%). It will be for the fourth year in a row that the race will visit Valls, where the victory could very well come from a breakaway, a solo attack on the final ascent or from a reduced sprint.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele