It was an exciting day in Andalucia. The race exploded early on the biggest climb, destroying Alessandro Covi’s GC hopes with the best climbers in the race going clear in a 14 man group. Chaos erupted in the last 20 kilometres, with Wout Poels going solo with Alexey Lutsenko, surprisingly winning the two up sprint after Lutsenko made some decisions that will surely upset his Astana teammate Miguel Angel Lopez.
The race exploded early on Alto del Purche (6.8 km, 9.1 %) where the GC riders went full-gas after Bora-Hansgrohe paced the early slopes.
The race leader, Alessandro Covi, was dropped and could not follow the 14-man group of GC favourites. In the group was Lopez, Lutsenko, Tejada (Astana Qazaqstan), Sosa (Movistar), Yates (Bike Exchange – Jayco), Landa, Haig, Caruso, Poels (Bahrain-Victorious), Vansevenant (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Cepeda (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA), Rodriguez (Total Energies), O’Connor (AG2R Citroën), and Rodriguez (INEOS Grenadiers).
Almost every big team was represented in the leading group, and UAE-Emirates could not bring the group back for Covi with little support. Israel Premier-Tech and Lotto-Soudal helped them as their respective GC riders Simon Clarke and Steff Cras were also back in the peloton.
The action in the leading group started with 25 km to go when Caruso attacked. Bahrain-Victorious had four riders in the group and they could afford to race more aggressively using their numbers. Caruso’s move was quickly shut down by Astana.
Then Lopez’ Astana teammate Lutsenko attacked with 20 km to go and started chaos on a false flat section. Bahrain-Victorious marked his move with Caruso, and O’Connor quickly joined them. Simon Yates, who had no teammates, after sensing that this might be a dangerous move, quickly bridged to the leading trio and a brief moment later tried to attack. Yates’ move was closed by O’Connor. The tempo was so high that Sosa struggled and was dropped. Lopez clearly was not happy with Lutsenko’s attack and closed the gap to his teammates group. Both groups were together again and for a brief moment slowed down. Sosa was dropped again, sitting in no man’s land.
Immediately after he had been closed by Lopez, Lutsenko attacked again. This time Poels from Bahrain-Victorious marked him rather than Caruso, with Haig of Bahrain always sitting in the wheel of Lopez. As both an Astana and Bahrain rider had gone clear, only riders with no teammates were left to chase in the group behind, with no immediate coordination to chase apparent and Astana and Bahrain-Victorious rider at the front slowing everything down even more. O’Connor was not happy and attacked whilst Simon Yates was trying to cajole Christian Rodriguez of Total Energies to chase. The Australian of AG2R attacked again, but was chased down by Caruso and then Lopez who continued to pace despite his teammate Lutsenko being in the first group.
Meanwhile Lutsenko and Poels continued to exchange turns in front, with a lead of 30 seconds. Lutsenko pacing with Poels, despite Poels being just behind Lopez on GC and above Lutsenko on GC, made absolutely no sense. There was a minor amount of cat and mouse as they arrived to the finish, with Poels launching his sprint first with Lutsenko on his wheel. Despite being the underdog in the sprint, Poels was able to beat Lutsenko who could not even draw level with him, taking both the stage and the leader’s jersey going into tomorrow.
The group behind finished 18 seconds later and fortunately for Astana, there are no bonus seconds in this race which Poels could have profited from. The peloton with Covi lost around 7 minutes.
Stage 5 will decide everything on GC. It will finish with the Chiclana de Segura climb of 6.4 km at 5.6%, with the last 1.4 kilometers being around 7.5 % gradient. After the disaster today for Astana, it is the chance for Lutsenko and the team to make it right for Lopez, who looks the strongest uphill in this race. Whether he can gain 10 seconds on Poels on these gentle gradients with Bahrain’s strong team is another question.