A long day in the break for Plaza on the Queen stage of Volta Catalunya

Thu 24 Mar 2016

35-year-old Ruben Plaza had a long day out front on stage four of the WorldTour race Volta Catalunya. Spending over 130km in the day's breakaway on the hilly Queen stage, it proved one climb too many for the Spaniard.

Damien Howson was the highest place finisher for ORICA-GreenEDGE, crossing the finish line in Port Ainé in 34th place. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) successfully managed to stay away to take the victory ahead of a reduced bunch of favourites.

"We had the option of going up the road today," said sport director Neil Stephens. "It's always good to have someone up there just incase and today it was Ruben." 

"We sort of had two parts to the race. We had the non climbers trying to get through the stage and do as little damage as they could, and then we had the climbers basically trying to give Esteban Chaves as much support as they could throughout the day.

"It turned out that once Ruben was caught we actually had the two young guys Damien Howson and Jack Haig still there and both having a really good day, so they were really good support for Chaves but in the end he had a bit of an off day."

How it happened:

Stage four of the Volta a Catalunya marked the queen stage of the seven day race. Within the first 20kilometres, as the peloton raced up the first climb of the day, the bunch split into two groups. Shortly after ten riders crept away from the front split and established a strong lead. ORICA-GreenEDGE rider Plaza was present in the ten-man breakaway.

The time gap for the escapees continually increased before the main climbs of the day and after 85kilometres they held a ten minute advantage. As the lead riders started the special category climb, Port de Cantó, a lengthy 24.5 kilometre ascent, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Imanol Erviti (Movistar) and Peter Weening (Roompot) rode away from their breakaway companions and created their own lead with less than 40kilometres remaining.

After tackling the 24.5km ascent the riders moved onto the final climb of the day up to 1975m, the finish line in Port Ainé and the trio held a gap of over six minutes back to the chasing peloton. The race began to heat up for the trio out front and Erviti went for it alone for a number of kilometres until Weening eventually bridged across. 

Similar to yesterday's race Weening decided to then take the race on and led solo in the final section of the race just ahead of the two other remaining breakaway riders. Plaza and the other initial breakaway riders were finally absorbed, after a strong effort to stay out front for so long. The chase was on behind by the reduced bunch which included Chaves, Howson and Haig.

As the final kilometres slowly came down, Weening maintained his solo lead hovering around 50seconds ahead of the two chasers. The reduced front group including all the favourites for the stage had left it too late, and BMC began to pick up the pace in and effort to maximise their losses. 

The race certainly wasn't over until the final metres as De Gendt gradually crept up to Weening with only two kilometres left. A reaction from behind saw Quintana try and close the gap but it was a little too late.

De Gendt timed his effort well to take the stage victory after a long day out front. Quintana finished just over one minute down to take second place with Porte finishing further behind for third. 

Howson was the highest placed finisher for ORICA-GreenEDGE coming home in 34th position as the shattered peloton crossed the line one by one after the unpredicatable finale.

With still three stages remaining the battle is certainly not over as the riders complete a longer stage of 187km to Valls.

Volta Catalunya stage four results:

1. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) 4:52:04
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar)  +1:08
3. Richie Porte (BMC) +1:23
34. Damien Howson (ORICA-GreenEDGE) +3:58

General classification after stage four:

1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) 19:01:43
2. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) +0:08
3. Richie Porte (BMC) +0:17
37. Esteban Chaves (ORICA-GreenEDGE) +6:49