Wout Poels (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) soloed to victory on stage four of the Tour of the Basque Country, accelerating on the final climb from an elite leading group.
The Dutchman stole a march on a group including Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and, with the assistance of Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) in the chasing group, stayed clear.
Valverde snatched a few seconds from Contador’s overall lead after a late acceleration, but the day belonged to Poels who reaped the rewards for the efforts he had put in for Kwiatkowski over the previous stages.
Attacks and counter-attacks had been the order of the day throughout the undulating stage.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural), Alexandr Dyachenko (Astana) and Jean-Marc Marino (Cannondale) were the first three riders to earn a significant advantage on the bunch.
Nelson Oliveira (Lampre-Merida) and Ben King (Garmin-Sharp) bridged to the three leaders but their lead was never allowed to grow into anything of note.
A fast pace behind meant the race came back together after just 77 kilometres, with the frantic speed at the front causing a significant split in the bunch.
Jeremy Roy (FDJ.fr) took advantage to go up the road, with Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Shimano) joining him, and several more riders attempting to bridge.
Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Simon Spilak (Katusha) were the highest profile of those to go forward.
Durasek, Dumoulin, Ben Gastauer (Ag2r-La Mondiale) eventually formed a three-man break, which Romain Sicard (Team Europcar) bridged the gap to join as they hit the Isua.
Durasek attacked towards the peak of the climb, cresting the category one ascent solo as he powered through the throngs of people lining the road.
Further back Rory Sutherland (Tinkoff-Saxo) set a fierce pace on the front of the bunch, burying himself for Contador.
Movistar responded by firing riders up the road, with Jon Izagirre joining the leading group, which reabsorbed Durasek after the Croatian rider suffered on the descent.
Any ambition Alejandro Valverde had of attacking with his team-mate in the break amounted to nothing however as Tinkoff-Saxo kept the race in check.
It came back together as they approached the final climb of the day, with Omega Pharma-Quickstep burning themselves on the run-in to the ascent to protect Michal Kwiatkowski.
Caja Rural sent a rider up the road but his attack did not last for long, before Orica-GreenEDGE duo Peter Weening and Simon Yates attacked the peloton.
British youngster Yates went clear at the front with 6.5 kilometres to go, eking out a small lead and looking at ease in the saddle.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) pulled the bunch behind him, Kwiatkowski on his wheel and the chief GC contenders all in tow.
Yates stayed clear for a couple of kilometres, but Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) bridged the gap, bringing the bunch back together in the process.
Roman Kreuziger took over the lead of the bunch, with Martin finally easing off and sitting up.
Valverde, Contador, Kwiatkowski, Simon Yates, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) all remained safely tucked in behind him.
Contador attacked with 4.7km remaining, dragging Valverde with him and prompting a series of counter-attacks behind.
It had the desired effect of shredding the bunch, with Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing) and Wout Poels (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) both earning short-lived gaps.
Contador’s attacks continued, his series of quick accelerations forcing responses from Valverde and dropping riders out the back each time.
With 3.5km remaining, Spilak attacked with three companions and, as the gradient eased, Contador – with Valverde in tow – bridged to them to form an elite group of six.
Poels and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) earned a small lead with three kilometres to go, urged on by a passionate crowd.
Poels then dropped the hammer again, with team-mate Kwiatkowski by now out of contention, enough to earn a significant lead on the descent.
He led by just ten seconds as he passed under the flamme rouge, but with Kwiatkowski back in among the chasing group the Pole disrupted the chase with great effect.
And the Dutchman seized his opportunity, narrowly holding off Contador’s group to seal the Belgian super team’s second win in three days.
Tour of the Basque Country 2014: stage four – result
1) Wout Poels (NED) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 3.39.29hrs
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1”
3) Samuel Sanchez (ESP) – BMC Racing – ST
4) Tom-Jelte Slagter (DEN) – Garmin-Sharp +3”
5) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling – ST
6) Yury Trofimov (RUS) – Katusha
7) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing
8) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Astana
9) Damiano Cunego (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
10) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 16.33.35hrs
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +12”
3) Damiano Cunego (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +36”
4) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing – ST
5) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
6) Yury Trofimov (RUS) – Katusha
7) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +41”
8) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Astana +54”
9) Wout Poels (NED) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +55”
10) Samuel Sanchez (ESP) – BMC Racing +56”