After looking very strong so far in this year’s 91st running of the Volta a Catalunya – he finished third in Tuesday’s 2nd stage – Team RadioShack’s Manuel Cardoso (POR) won Thursday’s 4th stage besting the field to the line in a bunch sprint in the town of El Vendrell, Spain. The 195 kilometer course, while bumpy at times, was not considered a mountain stage, in fact it was downhill most of the day with only one category 3 climb at the 130 km point, as the route wound its way out of the Pyrenees down to warmer conditions by the Mediterranean.
It took a long time for a breakaway to form during the stage and the peloton eventually conceded some 4 minutes to the leaders at one point, but it would not be long-lived. With the lead group starting to come undone at about the 40km mark, the chasing teams had reduced the lead to a minute and would continue to whittle away until approximately 15 km from the finish when they caught the final attacker, Alexandr Pliuschin of Katusha. The teams held it together from that point leading to the bunch sprint finish, in which Cardoso found the right line, tucked behind Movistar’s Joaquin Rojas, prior to jumping at the 300 meter mark, where no one was able to match his acceleration.
How tight was the field at the end? The next 176 riders were given the same time (4:33.02)!
Team RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer (USA) continues to look in good form this spring maintaining his second place in the overall General Classification, just 23 seconds behind Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador. TRS has 3 other riders in the top 20 right now: Chris Horner (USA) is in 5th place, Haimar Zubeldia (ESP) is in 16th, and Janez Brajkovic (SLO) is in 19th. The Team is in 6th place in the team standings, with a very good chance of winning that competition given the strong performances so far of it’s individual riders.
Without some misfortune befalling Contador, Levi’s 23-second deficit might prove an insurmountable hurdle, because there are no mountain finishes left in this race and this year’s edition does not include a time trial. In addition, depending on a decision to come out of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, this might be Alberto’s last race for some time. You can pretty much bet that this thought will be his motivation to hold nothing back in the next 3 stages, before this race concludes on Sunday in Barcelona. One thing’s for sure…this is professional road racing and fortunes can change drastically in 3 days time.
By George Hurst, staff writer