Astana Pro Team played a very strong hand on stage four’s critical final four-kilometre ascent to Santa Lucia hermitage, with Luis León Sánchez and Merhawi Kudus – second on this climb in the 2017 Vuelta a España – very active on the lower slopes, and Pello Bilbao shadowing Izagirre towards the summit.
Although Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) proved unmatchable in his ferocious twin acceleration, Izagirre’s fourth place enabled him to move into the lead, with Bilbao now lying in third place overall to create an Astana GC ‘sandwich’ around world champion Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
This is Izagirre’s first stage race lead since the Tour de Romandie in 2016 and, barring disaster, Sunday’s straightforward flat stage into Valencia will end with him claiming his first overall victory in a stage race since the Tour de Pologne in 2015. It will also be Izagirre’s first victory for his new team.
2That final climb was really tough and we went up it flat out,” Izagirre told a small group of reporters afterwards. “Movistar gave it a real blast at the bottom, Rubén [Fernández, of Movistar] went for it, and I told Luisle [Sánchez] and Merhawi to pull that back.
“But then Adam Yates attacked really hard, he virtually did the whole of the last kilometre and a half alone and it was all we could do to stay on his wheel.”
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