The gap has now risen to 5:44. Less than 40 seconds higher and Harm Vanhoucke (DSM), the best placed of the quintet on GC by far, 6:22 behind yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) will be race leader on the road.
And here is an image of the day’s breakaway
111 kilometres to go
The gap is staying stable at 5:30, the biggest margin the five leaders have had so far.
The race has now reached its most southerly point of a long loop out and back from the start/finish town of Santurtzi and having passed by the foot of the Orduna pass, one of the most famous in the Basque Country (though not climbed this year) and ridden west for a few kilometres, the peloton is heading back north towards the coast again.
124 kilometres to go
And the gap continues to rise for the five breakaways, to over five minutes. Jumbo-Visma and Bahrain Victorious pick up the pace in the bunch.
The advantage for our five men out in front is soaring at a rate of knots: 2:40 the current gap.
Unconfirmed reports of a third non-starter today, by the way, Netherlands rider Oscar Riesebeek (Alpecin-Deceuninck).
135 kilometres to go
The bunch has let these five go and we have our break of the day: 1:35 the gap.
And although Caicedo apparently struggled on that 3rd cat climb, he managed to get back into the break of five as they come off the Malkuartu and so we have five riders ahead: Caicedo, Harm Vanhoucke (DSM), Natnael Tesfatsion (Trek-Segafredo), Alan Jousseaume (Total Energies) and KoM leader Jon Barrenetxea (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
In the break of five, Jon Barrenetxea (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) claims top points on the summit of the Malkuartu to further buttress his lead in the mountains ranking.
And here’s a picture of Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) at today’s start. Landa placed second behind Jonas Vingegaard on the stage 3 finish and is currently the best placed of Vingegaard’s rivals, five seconds back.
And here’s a shot of the riders in the neutralized section of today’s start/finish town of Santurtzi. That sunny weather we mentioned before was no lie.
And the five breakaways are now at the foot of the first climb of the day, 3rd cat. Malkuartu: 2.5 km at 6.7 percent. Here’s an image of the ascent profile:
147 kilometres to go
Another small breakaway manages to get a gap of around 20 seconds, so let’s see it sticks. In this move are Harm Vanhoucke (DSM), Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education-EasyPost), Natnael Tesfatsion (Trek-Segafredo), Alan Jousseaume (Total Energies) and for a second time today, Jon Barrenetxea (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
Some words from race leader Jonas Vingegaard at the start today: “I’m excited to be in yellow, very happy about yesterday but today’s another day. I checked out the final climb, and I know it from two years ago, it’ll be exciting to watch today. We’ll take it [the lead] day by day, it’s a hard race and you have to do that.”
154 kilometres to go
No dice: despite Andrey Amador (EF Education-EasyPost), Robert Stannard (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and another stage 3 breakaway, Nicolas Prodhomme (AG2R Citroen) joining the three ahead, the bunch pulls all six back.
Three riders have a small gap: Joel Nicolau (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies). Latour, don’t forget, was already in the break of the day on Wednesday.
Unlike Wednesday’s early run along the Basque coast, today the peloton’s heading south-west and inland through the hills that line three sides of the coastal city of Bilbao and its industrial hinterland. The first climb of the day, the Malkuartu, is already less than 10 kilometres away.
An 50 kmh average speed for the first 14 kilometres: if anybody wanted to pick up some extra race food from the teamcar or drop off some kit in the fast-rising temperatures, now isn’t the moment.
162 kilometres to go
And after a fast start 11-man move, including mountains leader Jon Barrenetxea (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), has been brought back.
Reports of two non-starters but to be confirmed: Cristian Scaroni (Astana Qazaqstan) and Jesus Ezquerra (Burgos-BH).
The 2021 stage won by Aranburu also concluded with an ascent of La Asturiana, today’s final second cat. and drop back down to the Bilbao coastline. If a lot of people are following Aranburu’s wheel on the final climb, then, he’s only got himself to blame.
Aranburu, incidentally, knows what it means to win in the outskirts of Bilbao in the Itzulia Basque Country. Two years ago, the Movistar took a lone stage win at Sestao, just four kilometres away from Santurtzi having played a brilliant tactical game with his then Astana teammate, Omar Fraile.
Aranburu outpowers favourites for impressive solo win in Itzulia Basque Country
And racing is now underway for stage 4 of the 2023 Itzulia Basque Country.
In the other rankings we have Alex Aranburu (Movistar) in the points lead, Jon Barrenetxea (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) heads the mountains classification, Mattias Skjelmose (Trek-Segafredo) is currently ranked Best Young Rider and Movistar are on top of the teams ranking.
Jonas Vingegaard is in the lead (Jumbo-Visma) after winning stage 3’s perilously steep uphill finish. You can read the report on how it all played out here:
Itzulia Basque Country: Jonas Vingegaard captures stage 3 uphill victory, takes race lead
Here’s the results from Wednesday’s stage and the overall rankings as they currently stand
The riders are now rolling through the neutralized section, a fairly lengthy 4.7 kilometres. The weather is a balmy 18 degrees and sunny, for a fourth straight day. No sign of the rain that so often affects this race, and virtually no wind either.
There are also two intermediate sprints, one in the finish town:
Santurtzi: km 131.4
Larigada: km 148.7
That’s between the three third cat. climbs that open up the day’s challenges, and the probably definitive ascent of La Asturiana and final drop down back to Santurtzi.
These are the climbs coming up today, with more than 3,600 metres of vertical climbing, there’s no question the riders face another big day out in the hills of Euskadi:
Km 31: Malkuartu 3rd cat, 2.5 km, 6.7 percent
Km 80: Santa Coloma 3rd cat, 2km, 8.4 percent
Km 103.2: Bezi 3rd cat, 3.8km, 6 percent
Km 160.9: La Asturiana, 7.4km, 6.5 percent
Racing will get underway in about 10 minutes time on this 175.5 kilometre stage starting and finishing in Santurtzi, a dormitory town for the nearby city of Bilbao. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) is in the lead.
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of stage 4 of the 2023 Itzulia Basque Country