Stage 4 produced roughly the finish we’d expected, except the breakaway were given just enough time to mop up the podium places. A strong 20-man group went away after a number of unsuccessful attempts during the first hour of racing, and all eyes were on Darwin Atapuma, who was only 1:40 down on the general classification. Movistar controlled the pace in the peloton, and the gap held at the five-minute mark for much of the stage. The gap didn’t close, either, until the run in to the final climb, by which point the race was heating up as Thomas de Gendt attacked the lead group. As organization was lost in the breakaway, it was Direct Energie’s Lilian Calmejane who attacked and led the race up the final climb. He fought hard to open up a gap, and managed to preserve it for much of the climb — by the final kilometre it was clear he’d won, despite the speeding breakaway riders behind him. It was a great victory for the young Frenchman, and it was also a glorious moment for Atapuma, who took the bonus points for second place and held enough of a gap on the peloton to secure the red leader’s jersey.
Behind the leading 20 riders, the remnants of the peloton were led in by an elite selection, each of whom could not out-sprint the others: Valverde, Froome, Contador, Chaves, Quintana, Brambilla. None lost time to anyone except Atapuma, and each showed strong climbing as well as sprinting skills — it was, in particular, a promising display from Contador, despite the fact that he didn’t manage to throw down an attack. Expect the action to hit fever pitch on the bigger summit finishes to come. For now, Atapuma holds 29 seconds over Valverde, 33 over Froome, and 39 over Chaves and Quintana. Contador lags at 1:53.
It’s very likely to be a break for the G.C. men on stage 5. With only one categorized climb on the menu taking place over 50km before the finish, it should be an unproblematic day for the sprinters or punchers. It’s also not unsuited to a breakaway, but there won’t be a good springboard for attacks until 70km of racing have passed. We’re now travelling through the province of Lugo, towards the city of the same name, and the rider have around 75km of coastline to navigate before they head inland. From there the road rolls, before spiking up over the one cat 3 climb of the day. After that it plateaus out for much of the remainder of the stage, and it should be a fast run in to a tight loop into Lugo itself.
Whilst it’s a good day for a sprint, it should be noted that the last 10km feature a dip in the road, with a slow rise of around 100m leading up to the penultimate kilometre. It’s then a gently rising road up to the line, but nothing like a hill finish. Therefore, we should look to the top sprinters and punchers for our winner. We rate Gianni Meersman for this, after he performed so well on stage 2. It’s true that a crash saw Meersman on the right side of a split in the final kilometre, but he showed great form then, and he’ll prefer a mild kick in the road. We definitely wouldn’t rule out Niccolo Bonifazio as a strong favourite here, and we’ll say the same for Nikias Arndt. Jean-Pierre Drucker, Kristian Sbaragli and Magnus Cort Nielsen round off the list of favourites. There aren’t many KOM points on offer for a breakaway here, but it would be easy enough for Alexandre Geniez to grab a couple more points on the one climb. Luis Ángel Maté has also been talking up his chances for a break, and he might well stretch his legs here.
We’ll go with Gianni Meersman, with an outsider pick of Magnus Cort Nielsen.