Spanish cyclist Daniel Moreno won a mountainous fourth stage of the Vuelta a Espana to move 43 seconds behind new overall leader Sylvain Chavanel.
Katusha’s Moreno hung on to the wheel of Saxobank Sunguard cyclist Chris Sorensen as the pair charged toward the close of the 170km leg, of which the last 24km were uphill. Moreno swung past his Danish rival before the final bend and pulled away for a three-second victory, crossing the finish line at the 2,112m summit of the Sierra Nevada ski resort in 4 hours, 51 minutes, 53 seconds.
“I’m so happy with this beautiful win — I knew I could make a great performance also because the stage course was very suitable to my characteristics,” Moreno said. “Before going to catch Sorensen, I talked with our leader [Joaquin] Rodriguez [and] he was persuaded I had good chances to win today, because I’m faster than the Danish rider.”
The top two pulled ahead of a breakaway group to duel alone about 5km from the finish, but Sorensen couldn’t shake his Spanish rival.
“Moreno was simply stronger than me,” Sorensen said. “I tried to go alone with 1.5km to go, but he was with me instantly and maybe he was even cooler than me, but I have no regrets and I will try again.”
The next 29 riders finished 11 seconds behind Moreno, including defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Italy who was 12th.
Euskaltel-Euskadi cyclist Igor Anton, who was one of the favorites to win the stage, was 1:38 behind in 47th. He is 2:44 behind Chavanel, the QuickStep rider who assumed the red jersey of the overall leader with a time of 13:19:09, with Moreno in second. Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark and French cyclist Maxime Monfort are next, trailing by 49 seconds.
Nibali is next in fifth, 53 seconds behind the French leader.
Team Sky cyclist Bradley Wiggins was 1:31 behind in 21st.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish pulled out of the Vuelta with about 60km remaining in the stage.
Cavendish, who won the Tour de France’s green jersey last month, had lost time on the main peloton on all the stages so far in the race and on Monday his team said he was suffering badly in the extremely hot weather.
He is the second HTC-Highroad rider to quit after Australian Matt Goss abandoned on stage one.
“He’s not ill, he had no power left in his body and he was totally empty,” Cavendish’s sports director Jens Zemke said. “He was dropped on a climb and so far from the finish, he had no chance to survive.”
By contrast, fellow Briton Bradley Wiggins enjoyed a successful day.
Wiggins had previously described the final climb of Sierra Nevada as the first big test of his battle for a high general classification placing in Madrid.
After his Sky team had led the pack in the final segment of climbing, the 31-year-old Londoner finished comfortably with all the main contenders, 11 seconds down on stage winner Daniel Moreno.
“It was another good team performance there, and [teammate] Chris Froome rode his heart out for me again at the end there,” Wiggins said. “Things are going well again. I was pretty happy with how I coped with the heat and I am pleased to have finished where I did.”