Wout Poels crowns impressive team effort
The fourth stage of the Volta a Andalucia saw the overall standings taking a radical reshape. 15 riders went on the attack early on and were not caught again. From this group Wout Poels rode to the stage win, making the best of the support of his Team Bahrain Victorious mates Jack Haig, Damiano Caruso and Mikel Landa.
The 68th edition of the Volta a Andalucia that is also known as the Ruta Ciclista del Sol does not feature any flat stages. As a consequence Team Bahrain Victorious did not bring a sprint specialist to this race in the South of Spain. Sadly Dylan Teuns could not take the start as planned as he had returned a positive Covid test before the race. With the likes of Mikel Landa, Jack Haig, Damiano Caruso, Domen Novak, Wout Poels and Edoardo Zambanini the team still had plenty of depth despite being one rider down from the start. As for the first stage the peloton underestimated the quality of an early breakaway, so these riders got to fight for the stage win and the first leader jerseys. At the end of the second stage the brutally steep climb to Alcala la Real was sure to be decisive. Damiano Caruso set a fast pace on the approach to this ramp and then Wout Poels tried to accelerate away but got countered and left behind by the later stage winner. Jack Haig on the other hand moved up to 4th place on this final ascent.
The finale of the third stage got disturbed by a crash within the final three kilometers that also delayed Jack Haig, but luckily the Australian did not crash. As Wout Poels crossed the finish line in 6th place, another rider in red and black finished in the top10. The fourth stage was generally considered to be the Queen’s stage, serving up two cat1 climbs on the initial 50 kilometers. As overall leader Alessandro Covi showed some weaknesses, more than a dozen riders went on the attack just a bit more than 20 kilometers into the stage. As a consequence, a 15 rider breakaway formed, and Team Bahrain Victorious had no less than four riders in there with Jack Haig, Damiano Caruso, Mikel Landa and Wout Poels. This lead group kept extending the gap to the peloton until it stood at almost 3 minutes with 20 kilometers to go. That was the moment where the attacks from the breakaway started. When Wout Poels countered an attack from Alexey Lutsenko with 15 kilometers to go, these two riders managed to go clear.
While Mikel Landa got dropped due to a series of attacks, Damiano Caruso and Jack Haig successfully shut down any counter attacks and kept others from joining the two leaders. As a consequence, Poels and Lutsenko extended their lead to 30 seconds while nobody managed to go clear behind them despite many attempts. So the fight for the stage win came down to a duel in the roads of the town of Baza. Both Poels and Lutsenko kept each other in close check, and the Dutchman took the lead when entering the finish straight. He showed a lot of patience and dropped the speed ever so slightly before accelerating hard into a headwind with 200 meters to go. While Lutsenko managed to shut down a gap of one bike length he could not move up any more than that. Thus Wout Poels got to celebrate the stage win in Baza and also moved into the lead in the overall standings of the Ruta del Sol. At 10 seconds his margin to Miguel Angel Lopez is small, put Jack Haig is only 12 seconds behind as well. And thanks to today’s effort Team Bahrain Victorious is now tied on the same time with Team Astana as leaders of the team classification.
Sunday will not only see the conclusive stage of the Ruta del Sol from Huesa to Chiclana de Segura but also the start of the UAE Tour. This year this race features seven stages, with two mountaintop finishes at Jebel Jais and Jebel Hafeet, a short individual time trial and four flat stages. While the latter look like welcome opportunities for sprinters there is also the constant danger of echelons once the wind kicks in. For the UAE Tour Team Bahrain Victorious has put together a strong selection of four strong climbers, three riders with big engines and three fresh signings. Pello Bilbao and Gino Mäder can rely on the support of Hermann Pernsteiner and Alejandro Osorio on climbs. For flat sections and to close gaps in tricky wind conditions, the team can rely on three strong time trialists with Filip Maciejuk, Jonathan Milan and Johan Prîce-Pejtersen.
68TH RUTA CICILISTA DEL SOL - VUELTA A ANDALUCIA
STAGE 4: CULLAR VEGA - BAZA, 167.4KM
1. Wout Poels, NED/TEAM BAHRAIN VICTORIOUS, in 3:56.52 hours
2. Alexey Lutsenko, KAZ, st
3. Mauri Vansevenant, BEL, + 0.18
OVERALL STANDINGS BEFORE THE FINAL STAGE:
1. Wout Poels, NED/TEAM BAHRAIN VICTORIOUS, in 17:06.49 hours
2. Miguel Angel Lopez, COL, + 0.10
3. Cristian Rodriguez, ESP, + 0.12
Photos: bettiniphoto - sprintcyclingagency.com