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The years go by, the jerseys change, and the beat goes on: Fernando Gaviria keeps on winning bike races in Argentina. The Colombian scored his first victory for Movistar on stage 4 of the Vuelta a San Juan, beating Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) and Filippo Ganna (Ineos) in a reduced bunch sprint in Barreal.
The victory was the 50th of Gaviria’s professional career, and a dozen of them have now come on Argentinian roads, a sequence stretching back to when he surprised Mark Cavendish in Villa Mercedes on the opening day of the 2015 Tour de San Luis. By now, a Gaviria victory feels as much a part of the Argentinian experience as dulce de leche or Charly García records.
Gaviria’s win here was forged over 90km from the finish, on the 2,200m-high Gruta Virgen de Andacollo, where Egan Bernal (Ineos) was among the attackers and where a number of fast men, including race leader Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-QuickStep), were distanced.
Over the other side, Movistar and Sagan’s TotalEnergies squad took command of the reduced bunch, which they drove more or less all the way to Barreal, sweeping up Bernal’s group of escapees in the process.
The gently climbing finale, with the precordillera of the Andes as a backdrop, was not without incident. Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) briefly tried his luck with a kilometre to go – “It didn’t last for too long,” he smiled afterwards – before Filippo Ganna (Ineos) tried to upset the sprinters with a powerful effort from distance.
Gaviria, however, simply had too much speed in the final metres, delivering a crisp acceleration that carried him past Ganna, while Sagan was unable to get back on terms. To the undoubted delight of his new sponsor, Gaviria mimed placing a phone call as he crossed the line.
“This team is like a big family and the way they have welcomed me is incredible, from the first camp in Pamplona in October,” said Gaviria, who joined after four years of diminishing returns at UAE Team Emirates. “That makes me very happy and makes me give a little more of myself.”
Gaviria inherits the leader’s white jersey from Bennett, and he leads Sagan by 10 seconds and Ganna by 14 seconds in the overall standings. The 28-year-old smiled when asked how he would spend Thursday’s rest day in preparation for the Alto Colorado. “Tomorrow we’ll go to the pool and rest,” Gaviria grinned. “Then I’ll be riding tranquillo up Colorado.”
Ganna, on the other hand, will look to test himself on the race’s decisive ascent. “I’ll try to do my best, but the Colorado suits riders who weight 70kg or less, and I’m almost 90,” he said. “It’s hard.”
How it unfolded
With temperatures again approaching 40°C on Wednesday afternoon, the Vuelta a San Juan peloton was glad of the shelter afforded by the paddocks of the Villicum motor racing circuit before they took to the open road for stage 4. The soaring temperatures have exacted a toll on the bunch this week, and before the start, Stevie Williams (Israel Premier Tech) was the latest rider to withdraw through illness.
The afternoon began on a festive note, with world champion Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) serenaded at the sign-on as he celebrated his 23rd birthday. The world champion is the favourite to win this race, with Friday’s haul up the Alto Colorado expected to be decisive, but stage 4 had the potential for some general classification skirmishes, and so it proved.
The first half of the stage was essentially a long grind up to the summit of the Gruta Virgen de Andacollo, some 2,200 metres above sea level. The category 1 ascent itself was relatively gentle, but a climb of that length and altitude at this early point in the season was always likely to put the fast men under pressure, including race leader Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-QuickStep).
If the sight of sprinters struggling to keep pace off the back was in line with the expected script, the presence of Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) in the day’s early break was something of a deviation from the expected script. A day after marking the one-year anniversary of his life-threatening training crash, Bernal’s aggression here was as heartening as it was surprising.
Bernal was part of a 14-rider group that escaped on the long haul through the sparse, parched Sierra de Talacasta, and at one point, the escapees built an advantage north of five minutes over the peloton. Tomas Contte (Argentina) led Juan Pablo Dotti (SEP San Juan) and Manuele Tarozzi (Bardiani-CSF) over the summit of the category 1 climb, while Bernal himself went on the offensive over the other side in a bid to breathe new impetus into the move.
The long descent and valley that followed favoured the reduced peloton, however, not least because the remaining sprinters’ teams were now fully aware of the lie of the land. With Bennett and Jakobsen distanced, TotalEnergies and Movistar joined forces at the front on behalf of Peter Sagan and Fernando Gaviria, and their collaboration doomed Bernal and the escapees, who were swept up with 50km or so remaining.
The category 3 climb to Calingasta didn’t create any further separation in the 50-strong peloton, where TotalEnergies and Movistar did more than enough to ensure there would be no way back for the dropped fast men, though the long, shallow drag towards the finish town of Barreal lent itself to late attackers.
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