Lain to Fisterra 186.4km
The Vuelta raced past the coast of death to the end of the earth on Stage Four. The 186.4km (116.5km) road from Lain to Fisterra (from the Latin "finis terrae") was able to skirt Costa da Morte ("coast of death”) and despite the apocalyptic names, the racing was largely controlled.
Days like today are never easy for teams with contenders. It's hard to win the Vuelta on a day like this, but easy to lose. So for Cannondale Pro Cycling, their job was to keep captain Ivan Basso out of the wind, move him into position for the Mirador de Ezaro climb that starts 36km (22.5mi) from the finish, regroup, and get him ready for the 2.5km (1.56mi) 3.5% rise to Fisterra. On a stage like today, all the favorites will be trying to steal seconds from one another.
Cannondale's plan was straightforward, but the stage hunters always have something different in mind. There has to be an early break, and there was, with five riders escaping only 10km (6.2mi) into the day. The five, including Nicolas Edet of Cofidis, knew their only chance of staying away until the end was to work together perfectly, scale the Ezaro together, and still have a decent gap when the climb was over.
While their break rode out to a gap of almost eight minutes, too many teams had riders that specialized in uphill sprints to give the break a pass. The gap came down, and quickly, with the escape holding only 55 seconds in hand as the climb started. Edet was the only rider up for the challenge and rode away from his fellow escapees, topping the summit just 38 seconds ahead of the field.
The Cofidis rider was not daunted by the odds arrayed against him. He kept riding, and by the time he reached 24km (15mi) to go, another five riders had joined him and were holding a 24-second gap on the field. But that still looked threatening to the field, so with the big teams conspiring, they were just about caught with 17km (10.63mi) to go. But Edet wasn't yet ready to wave the flag of surrender. He kept the field at bay for another three kilometers, all the while the field was breathing down his neck, and then he gave up with 14km (8.75mi) remaining.
Cannondale's Basso has sometimes been referred to as an assassin, because he rarely makes a fuss, and is almost always in on the kill. His Cannondale team has been riding much the same way this Vuelta. They ride carefully, not attracting any notice, then they ride to the front in time to be ready for major obstacles. They did it on the Ezaro, faded back, and then rode to the front again after Edet was caught. The team even took turns ratcheting up the pace of the field leading into the 2.5km (1.56mi) ramp that leads to the finish in Fisterra.
As the ascent began, Astana was setting the pace for Vincenzo Nibali, the recently deposed race leader. Then Juan Antonio Flecha of Vacansoleil attacked, trying, as he did yesterday, to escape early. As Astana clawed back to him, Katusha's Dani Moreno jumped away. There was a pause in the field. Then RadioShack's Fabian Cancellara, who had been riding all day in support of teammate Chris Horner's race lead, counter-attacked, riding for the stage win. As the final meters ticked off, Cancellara and the field were closing rapidly.
But not rapidly enough. Moreno took the stage win, with Cancellara closing far enough to finish on the same time with the Spaniard. Basso finished 23rd six seconds down. Astana's Nibali re-took the Red Jersey from race leader Horner, who moved down to second, three seconds down. Basso remains in 27th overall.
Tomorrow the riders face another 168.4km (105.25mi) in the saddle, racing from Sober to Lago de Sanabria. This Vuelta seems designed to wear out riders, as this is a rolling stage, with a series of short climbs in rapid succession. As general classification time gaps are beginning to grow fairly large at the back, there's a chance lowly-ranked riders could be given enough freedom for an all-day escape. But as a handful of seconds separate the top riders, it's hard to imagine their teams won't use every opportunity to squeeze a few seconds if they can.
Vuelta a Espana 2013
Stage 4 Lain to Fisterra
1. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 4:37:47
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack Leopard same time
3. Michael Matthews (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge same time
4. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step same time
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
23. Ivan Basso (Ita) 0:00:06
49. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) same time
64. Maciej Paterski (Pol) 0:00:19
76. Daniele Ratto (Ita) 0:00:46
84. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 0:01:39
105. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 0:02:50
125. Guillaume Boivin (Can) 0:14:21
167. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg)
168. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita)
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 14:15:3
2. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:03
3. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:08
4. Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:16
5. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:21
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
27. Ivan Basso (Ita) 0:01:32
57. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 0:07:21
82. Maciej Paterski (Pol) 0:14:34
99. Daniele Ratto (Ita) :18:43
102. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 0:19:48
112. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 0:22:14
143. Guillaume Boivin (Can) 0:31:03
144. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) same time
170. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) 0:36:01