Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEDGE) has won the fourth stage of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana.
The Australian beat the world time trial champion in a sprint after the pair had broken clear of the main field on the 160.6km stage from Barakaldo to Estación de Valdezcaray.
Astana’s Assan Bazayev was third, some 20 seconds behind the pair he had struggled to stay with on the final climb of the stage. Ireland’s Nicholas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was fifth behind Caja Rural’s Marcos Garcia.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) now leads the race by one second from Britain’s Chris Froome (Team Sky) after Froome’s men attacked while deposed race leader, Alejandro Valverde, and most of his team were recovering from a crash.
Some 30km from the finish, Team Sky hit the front in a bid to reel in the breakaway, which had gained up to 13 minutes on the peloton.
Juan Antonio Flecha drove the peloton through cross winds which split the bunch, further damaging Valverde’s chances.
The Spaniard, who returned to racing in January after serving a two-year doping suspension, and many of his Movistar teammates also caught in the collision, which the Spanish team’s website blames on a ‘maneuver’ from Sky, reacted angrily to the British team’s attack.
A determined chase from Valverde, who rode to the summit finish on the category one Estación de Valdezcaray limited his losses to 55 seconds and is now ninth on GC, 36 seconds behind Rodriguez.
Movistar’s general manager, Eusebio Unzué, said he would ask the race commissaires to review video footage of the incident.
“That’s one of those crashes that happen in cycling and I don’t think there wasn’t any intentionality, but I think there were enough reasons to wait, because everyone could see the race leader crashing, six of his team-mates…
“There wasn’t anything at stake because the stage victory was for the escapees, so that’s why I don’t understand why being so cruel to take profit from the leader’s crash.
I’m really disappointed with the attitude by the bunch and certain riders,” he said.
But Sky’s directeur sportif, Marcus Ljungqvist, insisted his riders had acted in good faith.
“We haven’t seen a replay of the crash yet but let’s be clear, we are not the type of team who would ever try to benefit from some else’s misfortune, and there is always two sides to the story,” he said.
“It was clear that the peloton was nervous because of the crosswinds, and it was only a matter of time before one team hit the front. We took that responsibility because it was vital Froomey was well positioned, and then unfortunately the crash came soon after that.
“There’s always a lot of confusion straight after a fall and it takes time to know who’s been affected, and who’s been held up behind. Before we knew Valverde was down we were already 50 seconds in front and we had to keep chasing the break before the last climb of the day.
“It’s really unfortunate that it was the race leader who was caught up, but we didn’t have any choice but to keep going by the time we found out because there were other teams riding hard as well.”
The final 13 kilometres again placed Froome wheel-to-wheel with multiple Grand Tour winner, Alberto Contador. Each held a watching brief on the other, but their marking efforts were enough to distance the other favourites, until Rodriguez launched a determined fight back to reel in the two pre-race favourites and move himself into the red jersey of race leader.
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Vuelta a Espana stage four – result
1) Simon Clarke (AUS) – Orica-GreenEdge – 4.30.26
2) Tony Martin (GER) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +2”
3) Assan Bazayev (KAZ) – Astana +22”
4) Marcos Garcia (SPA) – Caja Rural +55”
5) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – AG2R-La Mondiale
6) Linus Gerdemann (GER) – Radioshack-Nissan-Trek – +57”
7) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Rabobank
8) Andrey Zeits (KAZ) – Astana Pro Team +1.01
9) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Rabobank +1.04
10) Jan Bakelants (BEL) – Radioshack-Nissan-Trek
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha +13.18.45
2) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +1”
3) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank +5”
4) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Rabobank +9”
5) Robert Gesink (NED) – Rabobank
6) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Team Sky +11”
7) Daniel Moreno (SPA) – Katusha +14”
8) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – AG2R La Mondiale +24”
9) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +36”
10) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Rabobank +46”