Jakobsen pips Bennett in Stage 4 sprint – Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a Espana 2019

Stage 4

Dutchman Fabio Jakobsen denied Ireland’s Sam Bennett successive wins in a photo finish in Stage 4 at El Puig to pick up a maiden Grand Tour victory in his first appearance in La Vuelta.

Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Jakobsen launched from a perfect lead-out from his teammate Max Richeze and held off a late surge from Bora-Hansgrohe’s Bennett to take his first win since becoming Dutch national champion 58 days previously.

Germany’s Max Walscheid (Team Sunweb) was a distant third while Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria (UAE Team Emirates) and Slovenia’s Luka Mezgec (Mitchelton-Scott) completed the top five.

A textbook finale to the largely flat 175.5km stage saw QuickStep send Remi Cavagna up the road with five kilometres remaining, forcing their rival teams to put in a frantic chase ahead of the bunch sprint.

Irish champion Bennett, who was favourite to double up following his emphatic Stage 3 win on Monday, lost position on the last of many roundabouts to pepper the finale.

Bennett finished fast – probably the fastest – but ran out of road as 22-year-old Jakobsen powered to the biggest win of his career, one day after he finished seventh in a baptism of fire on his first Grand Tour sprint finish.

Ireland’s Nicolas Roche (Team Sunweb) retained the red jersey for a third day with a slender two-second lead over Colombia’s Nairo Quintana of Movistar.

Despite missing out on a second win in as many days, there was a visit to the podium for Bennett to pick up the green jersey after the 28-year-old leapfrogged Quintana at the top of the points classification.

A day always destined for the sprinters got going with an early attack from Belgium’s Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) and Spaniard Jorge Cubero (Burgos-BH).

If the move seemed a trifle ambitious, then Cubero would have been minded to remember that his experienced breakaway companion – riding his fourth successive Vuelta – emerged victorious in Stage 18 last year when Wallays defied the rampaging peloton to outsprint fellow escapee Sven Erik Bystrom in Lleida.

With just the one categorised climb on the menu, the two-man move built up a maximum lead of six minutes as the sun shone down over the province of Valencia.

It was Wallays who won the intermediate sprint in Naquera ahead of the climb, with the gap having plummeted to under two minutes.

Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran needed treatment to a cut on the elbow following a touch of wheels with EF Education First teammate Mitchel Docker before the road headed uphill and the heavens opened.

The almighty downpour drenched the riders on the Cat.3 Puerto del Oronet but did not dampen Wallays’ spirits, the Belgian pipping Cubero for the KoM points over the summit.

The peloton during today’s stage.

Behind, Cubero’s Burgos-BH teammate, Angel Madrazo, darted clear of the pack to mop up the remaining point and consolidate his lead in the polka dot jersey standings.

A mechanical ended Cubero’s role in the break, the Spaniard swept up by the pack inside the final 30km after the rain had stopped falling.

Wallays was in no mood to give up the ghost. He retained a 40-second gap following the descent, but while he outpaced the storm, he couldn’t hold the peloton at bay.

Exposed roads, some blustery winds and a fast tempo caused some splits in the peloton as it hurtled along towards El Puig. But a series of roundabouts knocked the wind out of the pack’s collective sails as Frenchman Cavagna took advantage of a lull to zip clear with 6km remaining.

With Jakobsen having seemingly struggled in Monday’s sprint, Cavagna’s move looked as if his Deceuninck-QuickStep team had little confidence in the Dutchman’s kick.

But once the gutsy Cavagna was swept up ahead of the flamme rouge, Jakobsen was in a prime position to strike – on the front of the pack and in the wheel of Argentine pilot Richeze.

Bennett’s hopes of becoming the first rider to win back-to-back stages on the Vuelta since John Degenkolb in 2014 were dealt a blow when he opted for the long-way around a roundabout inside the final kilometre.

He recovered – but his surge, albeit huge, was too little, too late. Out of contract at the end of the season, the rumours have Bennett joining the QuickStep team of the rider who beat him in the photo finish.

Jakobsen will certainly have more opportunities to size up his prospective teammate over the next few weeks – although the next flat finish does not come until Stage 14 at Oviedo.

The other big news from Tuesday’s stage was the withdrawal of Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk of Jumbo-Visma. Third in July’s Tour de France and fourth in last year’s Vuelta, Kruijswijk left the race due to a knee injury he picked up in the crash in Saturday’s opening team time trial.

Coming up: Stage 5 – L’Eliana to Observatorio Astrofisico de Javalambre

The first major summit finish of any Grand Tour rarely decides the overall outcome of the race but usually sees at least one or two general classification hopefuls fall by the wayside.

Two lower-category climbs here will get the blood flowing before the Vuelta’s first ever ascent of the Pico del Buitre. It’s an 11.1km climb with an average gradient of 7.8% and extensive sections in double figures, peaking at 16% straight after a short downhill blip in the fifth kilometre.

Pandering perhaps to the current trend in cycling, the road to the Javalambre Observatory on the summit (just 50m shy of 2,000m) is nothing more than a gravel track. ‘Buitre’ translates as ‘vulture’ in Spanish; there should be plenty of them hovering above the cycling carcasses knocked for six on the first serious day of climbing.

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