Despite bad tactics and pacing for others, Joao Almeida won Volta a Catalunya stage 4 mountain top finish on the Boí Taüll climb (13.0 km, 6.0%). The Portuguese climber dropped his teammate Juan Ayuso, who was 6 seconds ahead of him in the GC, and also distanced the race leader Ben O’Connor. Almeida’s legs today were strong enough that tactics did not matter at all. Despite the win, he did not become the new leader of the race as Nairo Quintana had the same time in the GC and thanks to a better stage position sum, the Colombian will wear the leader’s jersey tomorrow.
It was a strong breakaway that formed today with descent climbers such as Marc Soler, Hugh Carthy, Juan Pedro Lopez, Bruno Armirail, Mark Donovan, Jesus Herrada and Mikel Bizkarra. The group formed on the first big mountain of the day but with Soler and Carthy close on GC, they were not given much leash by AG2R, riding to defend O’Connor’s leader’s jersey.
It was a good test for AG2R Citroën, who kept the gap small and controlled everything until the Boí Taüll mountain top finish as Soler was only 33 seconds back from race leader Ben O’Connor, who was interviewed by Lanterne Rouge before stage 4.
Arkea-Samsic set a blistering pace with Elie Gesbert at the start of the final climb to make the race harder for Nairo Quintana. Gesbert paced so hard that one of the AG2R Citroën riders let the O’Connor’s wheel and they both got a small gap over the peloton. Other favorites responded and joined O’Connor, while Valverde was dropped surprisingly early.
The UAE-Emirates used their numbers and sent George Bennett to attack. INEOS controlled everything with the always reliable Jonathan Castroviejo, who pulled for many kilometres until 3.4 km to go when the steep section started and neutralized Bennet’s attempt. After a brief Joao Almeida surge, Richard Carapaz launched an attack when the road was 1800m+ above sea level.
O’Connor did not have any teammates left, and he played it smart with not pacing for the others. After looking for a good amount of time, Sergio Higuita was the first to respond with an acceleration and bridged to Carapaz. Luckily for O’Connor and others, Almeida did all the job in the chasing group and was acting as a domestique for other GC riders.
After catching Higuita and Carapaz, the Portuguese climber did not end there and continued to pace hard, dropping his teammate, Juan Ayuso, who was 6 seconds ahead of him in the GC. The UAE-Emirates already yesterday had some team work issues as no one wanted to pace for stage win to catch O’Connor. Almeida with his full-gas attitude distanced the race leader O’Connor. Only Quintana, Carapaz and Higuita were strong enough to stay on the UAE riders wheel. After all that, Almeida did not stop pacing, which made no sense, giving the South Americans a free wheel to draft when they were ahead of him on GC going into the stage. With 1.3 km to go Almeida was finally looking at rivals to help him with pacing and Higuita and Quintana responded with accelerations. Almeida caught them back and still continued to pace. The Portuguese rider even started the final sprint first with 300 metres to go.
Quintana overtook him before the 100 metre sign before a sharp corner but made a mistake and left space at the inside for Almeida, who still had something left in the legs and won the sprint, despite terrible tactics and doing almost all of the pacing.
Both Almeida and Quintana had the same time in the GC, but the Colombian became the leader as he had a better stage position sum (Quintana 25+17+3+2 = 47, Almeida 73+35+5+1=114). That was the last mountain stage and there is a high chance that the GC might be decided by intermediate sprint bonus seconds.
Stage 5 will be a day for sprinters like Hofstetter and Bauhaus. The both intermediate sprints are at the end of the stage and there is a high chance the GC riders will sprint for the bonus seconds as the breakaway might have been caught by that time. It will be up to UAE and the sprinters’ teams to control the breakaways in the stages to come, as Arkea-Samisc will not want Quintana to have to contest the intermediate sprints against Almeida.
The Boí Taüll climb (13.0 km, 6.0%) was at high altitude, which meant that it was harder for the riders to push the big watts. The stage before the last climb was not insanely hard. According to Ben O’Connor’s Strava data, he averaged 228 watts (289 watts normalized power) for almost four hours. He did 12.2 kj/kg/h for 3:55h, which is a medium difficulty.
The Pont-Comiols climb (15.62 km, 5.1%) where the breakaway formed was done at an incredibly high pace. O’Connor in the peloton did 368 watts (5,49 w/kg) for over a 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Bruno Armiral, who got in the breakaway, pushed an insane 411 watts for 32:43 (5,87 w/kg).
O’Connor climbed Boí Taüll (13.27 km, 6.1%) for 31:19 and averaged 368 watts (5.49 w/kg). He finished 12th and lost to Almeida by 23 seconds. The last 4.1 kilometres were hard due to 6.7% average gradient, compared to other parts of the climb. In this last section, O’Connor pushed 395 watts (5.89 w/kg) for 10:16. Before it was a descent and lower gradients. From 8.2 km to 4.1 km to go O’Connor averaged only 313 watts (4,67 w/kg). That means riders rested well before the last 4 kilometres, where Almeida blew the race apart.
At the start of the final climb there was a moment were O’Connor got separated from the peloton as he followed Elie Gesbert’s wheel, while an AG2R rider could not hold the wheel. No wonder as it was 6,5 w/kg for a little bit over 3 minutes when the Gesbert paced, according to O’Connor’s data.