Persistence: (noun) the fact of continuing in spite of difficulty or opposition.
Stage 4 of the Vuelta had been over 4 years in the making for Direct Energie. The Professional Continental team had gone 1497 days without a Grand Tour win, and yet they persisted to deliver it in style with Lilian Calmejane.
“I knew that on the Vuelta, unexpected things can happen. Now it’s something that happens to me that I wasn’t ready for.”
Two breaks attempted to get clear early in the stage, one with 9 men and the later with 18. Neither of these stuck as Movistar were determined to shut large moves down. The peloton were all together by the time they reached the first of two Category 3 climbs of the day – Alto da Serra Capela. The majority of riders scaled it with ease while more breaks attempted to distance, including Fernandez who was brought back quickly. 50km passed before an established breakaway managed to gain almost 2 minutes on the peloton.
They were Domont (AG2R La Mondiale), Zeits (Astana), Atapuma (BMC), Benedetti (Bora Argon 18), Thwaites (Bora Argon 18), Madrazo (Caja Rural), Roson (Caja Rural), King (Cannondale-Drapac), Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac), Rossetto (Cofidis), Haas (Dimension Data), Kudus (Dimension Data), Calmejane (Direct Energie), Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep), Arndt (Giant Alpecin), Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Wyss (IAM Cycling), Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo), De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Grmay (Lampre Merida).
They managed to increase their lead on a red jersey wearing Fernandez-led peloton as they climbed the second Cat 3 climb of Alto Monte Caxado. The relaxed pace through the feed zone meant this quickly rose to almost 5 minutes. Thomas De Gendt is a danger man, already winning stages in both the Giro and Tour de France, with just the Vuelta left to complete the trio. He’s also won numerous mountain classifications – Tour of Britain, Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya – and combativity awards. It was later announced he’d won the combativity award for today too, as well as taking maximum KOTM points for the first two climbs. Riders such as Calmejane, King and Rolland will take breakaway chances on days like these, giving them more of a chance for a stage win for their team rather than having to fight with GC contenders. Warbasse and Wyss are yet to have announced a new team for 2017 – meaning their future in the peloton is in doubt if they aren’t seen to be successful.
With 10km to go, more teams were gathered at the front of the peloton to limit the time loss to the breakaway, who were now starting the final climb of Alto Mirador De Veixia. Quintana was behind Sky and Orica, in order to avoid being caught out by sudden breaks. Quintana hasn’t had much luck with this in the past, being caught out in crosswinds during the second stage of the 2015 Tour de France and again during Froome’s attack on stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France. He’s also competing for leadership with Valverde, his 36 year old teammate.
Calmejane managed to distance the break on the climb while Rolland tried to follow him. Yet he couldn’t quite bridge and the Direct Energie rider just managed to zip up his jersey, showing off his sponsor before celebrating their first GT win in 1479 days.