John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) sprinted to victory on stage four of the Vuelta a Espana, beating Vincente Reynes (IAM Cycling) as a reduced peloton contested the bunch sprint in Cordoba.
A combination of the heat and the fast pace of the bunch over the day’s two categorised climbs meant only a 60-strong group were in the main group peloton as the race reached Cordoba – red jersey Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) among them.
And it was Degenkolb who sprinted to the win, the sixth Vuelta stage win of his career, while Matthews finished third to pick up bonus seconds and extend his overall lead slightly.
In scorching hot conditions, a five-man break established themselves early on consisting of Sebastien Turgot (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jimmy Engoulvent (Team Europcar), Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) and Gert Joeaar (Cofidis).
Their lead never reached more than three minutes, however, as the peloton – with several teams taking turns on the front – ensured they never looked likely to foil the sprinters.
Turgot was the first to fold in the heat, with the peloton having closed the gap to just 30 seconds as they approached the Alto de San Jeronimo.
Joeaar had also sat up and returned to the bunch by the time they crested the climb, though not before Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) had bridged to the two leaders and attacked solo.
Txurruka led the way over the top, leading solo on the rapid descent as gaps began to form further back –Movistar having ramped the pace up on the climb.
Engoulvent joined Txurruka up the road, but the pace in the bunch behind them remained high – Vasil Kiryienka hitting the front for Team Sky.
Kiryienka and Sky’s pace on the Alto del Catorce por Ciento saw many riders caught out at the back – Peter Sagan (Cannondale) among those to lose contact.
With Movistar sharing pace-setting duties, the two leaders were caught on the ascent – paving the way for a series of attacks on the fast, technical descent.
Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEDGE) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were two of four riders to go clear on the descent – showcasing their descending ability as they joined Romain Sicard (Team Europcar) and Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida).
Their lead quickly stretched out to 26 seconds with 20 kilometres remaining, while Tinkoff-Saxo, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo led a reduced peloton as they bid to bring them back.
Alberto Losado (Katusha) did a big shift on the front, bringing the gap down slightly, and though the leaders were still up the road with 11 kilometres to go, the speed in the bunch grew to more than 80km/h.
The gap was rapidly down to just single digits as Orica-GreenEDGE came forward to protect the red jersey – Yates keeping Valverde in check up the road as the two groups came together with nine kilometres remaining.
Orica-GreenEDGE continued to lead the way, keen to ensure no more late attacks as the reduced bunch headed towards the sprint finish – ramping the pace up again with four kilometres to go.
The hot conditions ensured attacks were few and far between – but Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) launched with 1500m to go.
Giant-Shimano led the bunch under the flamme rouge, however, and for the second day running the Australian’s late attack was foiled inside the final kilometre.
The Dutch team, with Degenkolb lined up and Michael Matthews on his wheel, looked to be in prime position for the stage, but Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) caused a brief moment of concern as he accelerated on a different line.
Degenkolb would not be denied however, kicking hard from a few wheels back as Reynes launched his attack early.
The German, with his uncompromising sprinting style, burst past the IAM Cycling man, rapidly opening up a length’s advantage to celebrate his first victory since Gent-Wevelgem.
Vuelta a Espana 2014: stage four – result
1) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano – 4.02.55hrs
2) Vincente Reynes (ESP) – IAM Cycling – ST
3) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
4) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – Cannondale
5) Daniel Martin (IRL) – Garmin-Sharp
6) Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS) – Katusha
7) Lloyd Mondory (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
8) Valerio Conti (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
9) Bob Jungels (LUX) – Trek Factory Racing
10) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 13.30.44
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +8”
3) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +15”
4) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +19”
5) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – Cannondale +21”
6) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
7) George Bennett (NZL) – Cannondale +24”
8) Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
9) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +27”
10) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling – ST
15) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +35”
18) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +42”
20) Dan Martin (IRL) – Garmin-Sharp +43”