Spanish cyclist Joaquin Rodriguez took the overall lead of the Tour of Basque Country after winning the fourth stage on Thursday.
The Movistar cyclist made a big push toward winning the 52nd edition of the race by finishing the 151km ride nine seconds ahead of Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, the overall leader after the third stage.
Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck and the Netherlands’ Wouter Poels tried to get ahead in the last kilometer of the steep, final ascent, but Rodriguez controlled before counterattacking with 500m to ride. Rodriguez crossed the line alone in 3 hours, 55 minutes, 56 seconds to also hold a nine-second overall advantage over fellow Spanish cyclist Sanchez.
“It was a really hard final part, but very suitable to my characteristics,” Rodriguez said. “First, I was able to slipstream Schleck [and] then Poels, then I managed to pass him and win.”
Sergio Luis Henao of Colombia and Robert Kiserlovski of Croatia both crossed the line 12 seconds later, while Lars Petter Nordhaug of Norway led a group 16 seconds behind in fifth.
Rodriguez leads his Euskaltel-Euskadi rival with an overall time of 16:02:02, which is 21 seconds better than third-placed American Christopher Horner of RadioShack-Nissan. Kiserlovski and Henao trail the leader by 24 seconds.
The next-to-last stage due to be raced yesterday was a 183km cycle from Bera to Onati, before today’s time trial finale.
“Races against the clock are not my specialty, but this one will be quite technical, with many ups and downs. It won’t be a classic time trial,” Rodriguez said.
“Now I have a nice gap so I think I have some chances, at least, to [win],” he added.
Meanwhile, US cyclist Levi Leipheimer will be sidelined indefinitely after breaking his left leg when he was hit by a car in training.
His Omega Pharma-Quickstep team said X-rays diagnosed a broken leg after he was hit on Sunday while riding solo ahead of the Tour of Basque Country.
Leipheimer was “disappointed,” but relieved to have broken the smaller bone in the lower leg as “I can’t communicate how close I came to being killed and that was incredibly scary.”
The Butte, Montana, native will be sidelined for two weeks before the team evaluates the full length of his recovery.