Another animated stage unfolded at this week's World Tour race, but the Spaniard made it safely to the finish with the help of a fantastic team.
David De La Cruz will start the penultimate day of Vuelta al Pais Vasco in the yellow jersey, after successfully defending it on a complicated stage four, throughout which he was protected by his teammates from start to finish, thus navigating all the hurdles – from crashes and road furniture to fast descents and narrow roads – which came in the way of the peloton between San Sebastian and Bilbao, two of the region's most important cities.
Four riders escaped in the first part of Thursday's stage, but the bunch weren't willing to make any gifts, so they controlled the gap of Maxim Belkov (Katusha-Alpecin), Jonathan Lastra (Caja-Rural), Amael Moinard (BMC) and Toms Skujins (Cannondale-Drapac), who never took their lead beyond the 4:40-mark.
With more than 100 kilometers remaining, Quick-Step Floors moved to the front of the pack and set a tempo which soon began to pay dividends, as the breakers' margin was cut by half long before they hit Sollube, the day's first climb.
The second part of the stage was marred by crashes and abandons, as the pace intensified at the front and the battle for positioning became much fierce. This didn't stop the peloton from swallowing up the escapees inside the last 20 kilometers, a moment which was shortly followed by a flurry of attacks. One after another, several riders tried to escape and put pressure on stage 3 winner David De La Cruz, but a hard-working and relentless Enric Mas made sure they didn't open a decisive gap.
Even on the fast descent towards Bilbao, the 22-year-old impressive neo-pro – who's riding his fourth World Tour race of the season – was in control of things, doing a wonderful job for his countryman. It wasn't only until the final three kilometers that Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) escaped and time trialed to victory; at one point, the Slovenian threatened to take also the yellow jersey, but David pulled hard behind him and closed most of the gap before the finishing line, which he crossed in 11th place, just two seconds adrift.
This result meant David De La Cruz continues to lead the overall standings at the 57th Vuelta al Pais Vasco and will head into the queen-stage of the race with the prized yellow jersey on his shoulders. Friday's stage is expected to add more drama to the general classification fight, as it will take the peloton to one of the most known finishes in cycling, the 3.9km-long Santuario de Arrate, which ramps up to 12.5% in some sectors.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele