Friday, April 06, 2012

Samu one step closer as main rivals stutter

Samuel Sánchez put what might prove to be vital seconds into his main rivals on today's fourth stage of the Vuelta al País Vasco. Samu was no match for Joaquim Rodríguez on the vicious slopes of the Ibardin and ceded the leader's jersey to the diminutive Katusha rider, but more importantly distanced the likes of Christopher Horner and Tony Martin with his impressive ride to second place.

'Purito' was in a class of his own on the mythical climb of the Ibardin, the climb making it's first appearance in the race for 18 years. While the first five kilometres didn't separate the main contenders, the final 1000 metres most certainty did. After the likes of Monfort and Poels had went for broke before subsequently being reeled back in, Rodríguez left the leading group for dead with an acceleration worthy of his reputation and soloed in nine seconds ahead of Samu. Sergion Henao completed the podium a further three seconds adrift, while Hesjedal came in 16 in arrears and Martin, Mollema and Horner 21. Samu thus holds a 12-second advantage on Martin and Horner heading into the last two stages.

"We have to keep our feet on the ground", Samu, ever modest, told the team's website after the stage. "We're taking it day by day. This climb separated the riders more than Arrate did, and ahead of the final two days we're ahead of where we were last year: we've won a stage, we've been in the leader's jersey and I'm second on GC. That's not too shabby. But, again, it's vital we remain calm".

While the lack of team-mates for Samu to lean on in the final five kilometres was noteworthy, DS Gorka Gerrikagoitia was pleased with his boys. After all, they had ridden ever so well for their captain over the 145 kilometres leading up to the climb.

"The team was marvelous, and Samu is, as usual, at a very high level of form. After yesterday's victory and today's results, the assessment is positive. We took control of the race today and Samu was right up there. We put some seconds into Horner, Martin, Hesjedal and the rest of the podium candidates as well. It was important to get a bit of an advantage."

Up tomorrow is a rather sprinter-friendly 183km trek from the site of today's finish, Bera, to Oñati. Changes to the GC are highly unlikely - a break is guaranteed to go the whole way.

Stage results:
  • (1, Joaquim Rodríguez, Katusha)
  • 2, Samuel Sánchez, 0:09
  • 40, Egoi Martínez, 1:40
  • 50, Mikel Astarloza, 2:59
  • 85, Gorka Verdugo, 8:20
  • 86, Igor Antón, s.t.
  • 88, Gorka Izagirre, s.t.
  • 93, Juan José Oroz, 9:09
  • 122, Jorge Azanza, 14:46
General classification:
  • (1, Joaquim Rodríguez, Katusha)
  • 2, Samuel Sánchez, 0:09
  • 54, Mikel Astarloza, 8:15
  • 61, Igor Antón, 9:10
  • 70, Egoi Martínez, 12:32
  • 78, Gorka Izagirre, 17:15
  • 79, Gorka Verdugo, s.t.
  • 92, Jorge Azanza, 23:41
  • 110, Juan José Oroz, 27:23
Samu is leading the points classification at present - a single point ahead of his friend and overall leader Rodríguez.

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