Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation
Stage 4, August 29th, Almendralejo to
Cáceres, 142 km
No Time to Relax
Cáceres is one of the most extensive provinces in Spain , It borders on the north with the lands of Salamanca and Avila in the region of Castilla-Leon. T he whole south of the province borders with Badajoz . The east borders the lands of Toledo and Ciudad Real in La Mancha , and in the west with the Alentejo and Central Region of Portugal.
The city of Cáceres is a perfect example of the evolution Spanish history. Cáceres shows very clearly two distinct time periods: The Moorish era (with its Arabic fortress) and the Christian era (with its feudal city). The city still maintains its roots and history thanks to its people, the carriers and protectors of its traditions who have been able to preserve one of the best examples of the medieval and renaissance eras of the world. Its palaces and ancestral homes, once inhabited by lords' families and public institutions, with their coats of arms, their towers and machicolations, demonstrating the defensive character of the city.
Beautifully preserved Romanesque architecture in Cáceres
In stark contrast to Stage 3, Stage 4 is the shortest stage of the Vuelta. There are no rated climbs but the route is generally rolling in nature and the final 400m to the finish is slightly uphill. This stage is made for the sprinters.
The only invited (non-Pro Tour) team in this race, Relax-GAM, initiated the very first break of this Vuelta on Stage 2 when Raúl García De Mateo Rubio had attacked from the gun and then got caught 3kms later. As he was being absorbed by the bunch his teammate Mario De Sárraga counter-attacked. De Sárraga spent 134km alone in the lead before surrendering to the peloton.
Undeterred by his Stage 2 experience, García De Mateo tried his luck once more today after just a few kms. With scorching heat again nobody was interested in joining him. Yesterday huge amounts of water were taken on by the teams. Gerolsteiner reported that their riders took on over 280 bottles. The ‘water carriers' were again very busy today. With absolutely no shade and very little habitation in this barren countryside the peloton is undoubtedly looking forward to reaching their air conditioned hotels in Cáceres.
Raúl García de Mateo, Relax-Gam, during his long break ( Image © Unipublic )
With 57kms to go the lone leader was baking 4:10mins ahead of the steaming peloton. The temperature had risen to 42 degC (about 105 degF). Camels might survive in these conditions but lean racing cyclists will suffer and many will be feeling the affects for days afterwards. However back in the peloton the fight was on for the point's jersey and at both intermediate sprints race leader Hushovd beat O'Grady to add eight bonus seconds to his lead.
García De Mateo plugged on bravely keeping his sponsors logo well to the front for the TV coverage, but he was clearly paying for his efforts. His lead was down to two minutes with 35kms to go and a bunch sprint was looking like the most obvious scenario. In the obstinate manner of most racing cyclists the lone leader kept holding out hope but keeping a Pro Tour peloton at bay needs more than hope.
Sure enough the inevitable came with just 16kms to go. García De Mateo had spent 113kms alone under the blazing sun. Incredibly as De Mateo was sliding back through the peloton his teammate Jorge García launched a surprise counter-attack. He quickly gained 20 seconds but four kms later his dreams also melted under the merciless sun. Hopefully the publicity of these aggressive efforts will be of value to the Relax-GAM team sponsors.
It was now time for the sprinters domestiques to fall into their ranks and prepare for the final rush into town. Credit Agricole (for Hushovd) and Davitamon-Lotto (for McEewen) were first to take the initiative. While this was going on suicide attempts were crackling off of the front of the bunch in rapid succession. Just as quickly each attempt was crushed without fanfare.
Credit Agricole and Davitamon-Lotto control the chase ( Image © Unipublic )
Another chaotic bunch gallop ensued and to the joy of racing fans around the world, Milram's Erik Zabel came out on top. After an endless string of near misses this season he finally got it right. Hushovd was second and thus added a few more seconds to his race lead.
Millram's Zabel and race leader Hushovd accelerate to the line ( Image © Unipublic )
An extremely unfortunate aspect of the current doping related issues is that the sport is losing sponsors and teams. However there are still plenty of people who believe in the sport and it would seem that the sponsors of Relax-GAM are making a serious bid to join the ranks of the Pro Tour. For their team and riders the Vuelta is a golden opportunity to display their qualities. As De Sárraga, García De Mateo and Jorge García have discovered, this means that in this Vuelta there is ‘no time to relax'! You can bet on that...
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