Atapuma in red after Calmejane soloes to victory in stage 4
Frenchman Lilian Calmejane won a maiden Grand Tour scalp in his debut Vuelta a Espana at San Andres de Teixido as Colombia's Darwin Atapuma took over the leader's red jersey in stage 4, writes Felix Lowe.
Direct Energie's Calmejane, 23, belied his relative inexperience to ride clear of a break of 20 riders on the third and final categorised climb of the day before holding on to take a superb win by 15 seconds over BMC's Atapuma in the rolling 163.5km stage from Betanzos in Galicia.
It was Direct Energie's first World Tour win since June 2013 and their first stage scalp on a Grand Tour for a whopping 1497 days – since former rider Pierre Rolland triumphed at La Toussuire in the 2012 Tour de France when the team was known as Europcar.
Rolland, incidentally, was one of the other big-name riders in the day’s break – yet the Frenchman, now at Cannondale-Drapac, was unable to bridge over to his compatriot on the final climb before slipping back to finish seventh.
The peloton containing all the race favourites – including Britain’s Chris Froome (Team Sky), Spain’s Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – was led over the line by Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde just over two minutes in arrears.
With red jersey Ruben Fernandez, also of Movistar, coming home 2:55 down on the stage winner, Atapuma became the fourth new leader of the race in as many days.
Atapuma leads Valverde by 29 seconds with third place Froome a further four seconds back. Colombian duo Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) and Quintana complete the top five at 39 seconds.
“It’s a very great feeling,” said neo-pro Calmejane after the first professional win of his career. “I started the Vuelta with a lot of ideas in my head but to win a stage so soon into the race is just awesome.”
Calmejane’s victory was a second in as many days for France following Monday’s solo win for FDJ’s Alexandre Geniez, who also proved the strongest from a seven-man break after a punchy climb to the finish.
“Yesterday I was feeling good and I tried to get in the break but with just seven riders I thought it would not go to the finish. But it did, with Geniez winning, so today I told myself I must get into the break,” Calmejane said.
The first-year pro made his decisive attack moments after compatriot Axel Domont, the Ag2R-La Mondiale rider who had finally broken clear of the break ahead of the final climb after three fruitless earlier attempts, was reeled in with 8km remaining.
Calmejane counter-attacked immediately to take the likes of Atapuma, Rolland and Ben King (Cannondale-Drapac) by surprise, building up a healthy cushion before a small descent ahead of the final rise to the line.
“When the gap was more than four minutes [back to the peloton] I knew it was possible. I attacked and gave everything to the finish line and it’s just wonderful,” Calmejane said.
Like Fernandez before him, second place for Atapuma was enough to see the Colombian move into the red jersey, while American King settled for third ahead of Andrey Zeits (Astana), Nathan Haas (Dimension Data) and Enrico Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo).
The remnants of the break came home in dribs and drabs with only Domont being caught by the pack before the finish. Britain’s Peter Kennaugh, the Team Sky rider who wore the first red jersey of the race, was the only rider to try and attack from the pack on the final climb, with the favourites seemingly content to chase shadows and hold wheels.
The Vuelta continues on Wednesday with the 170km stage 5 from Viveiro to Lugo which – despite a third-category climb 60km from the finish – should reopen the door to the sprinters.