Milan Vader (Jumbo-Visma) swept up his first professional road victory in spectacular style on stage 4 of the Tour of Guangxi, climbing away from a rapidly thinning lead group in the final few hundred metres of the Queen stage.
Rémy Rochas (Cofidis) came second behind the Dutch mountain biker, who last year made the switch to the road, while Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) took third on the 161.4km stage with the only summit finish of the race.
While the attacks came even before the peloton hit the first steep ramp of the 3.2km category 1 finishing climb to Nongla, it was ultimately an attritional battle right through to well inside the final kilometre. With just a few hundred metres left Vader got up out of the saddle and wound up the pace on a hairpin bend, took a solid gap and just kept on rolling.
Rochas was the only rider in sight as he headed into the final 100m but the 27-year-old held off the closing Frenchman to claim the stage and overall race lead.
“This is a victory from the heart,” Vader, 27 said on in a reaction published on the team website. “After everything that has happened, especially after my fall in the Tour of the Basque Country last year, winning is an incredibly special feeling. It means everything to me.”
Too exhausted to celebrate as he crossed the line with a look of disbelief on his face, Vader threw himself on the ground, legs totally spent, having to take a moment to recover before he was pulled to his feet by teammate Steven Kruijswijk.
The victory also gave Vader a six-second lead on Rochas in the overall while Carthy slotted into third place 14 seconds back. Dries De Bondt (Alpecin-Deceuninck), who had moved into the overall lead on stage 3 as a result of his judicious accumulation of bonus seconds, slid down into 34th spot overall, with the climb proving too big an obstacle for the Belgian rider who finished 1:40 after Vader.
How it unfolded
The first three stages were for the sprinters, but as the WorldTour race hit day 4 the terrain and type of rider that it would suit took a significant turn. The race started in Nanning, which provided the finale for the previous day, and as the peloton worked its way through the city the break was quickly established with Zdeněk Štybar (Jayco-AlUla), Jensen Plowright (Alpecin-Deceuninck), Julius Johansen (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), Jens Reynders (Israel-Premier Tech) and Haoyu Su (China National Team).
It was in fact the first time so far in the race that the break didn’t include De Bondt, who sat back in the peloton in the red jersey on Sunday instead. At one stage the break carved out a gap of around 2:40, but by 40km to go it had dropped to around 1:20 and by 32km to go it was a straight minute.
The team of race leader De Bondt had a rider in the front group with Plowright. But there was certainly no shortage of others willing to keep the gap in check with UAE Team Emirates, Movistar and EF Education-Easypost among those sending riders to the front. The climbers were anxious to take their chance, particularly given this was the lone summit finish of the race.
The group out the front kept working together, breaking the rhythm for the three intermediate sprints and – despite a valiant early effort from Reynders in the final battle – Plowright swept up top points in every one.
As the peloton closed the games in the break group began and at 16km to go the group of five began to fall apart. Plowright was first out the back and then Su, but only after he had attempted to get away with a solid attack.
With the lush greenery and spectacular rocky outcrops as a backdrop, Štybar – who is likely riding one of his last races on the road as a professional – Johansen and Reynders held on out the front for a little longer, finally being absorbed into the bunch at around 11km to go.
It was now time for the climbers to get into position and let the battle for the Queen stage of the race unfold on the steep 3.2km slope to the Nongla finish line. The moves already started to go on the early slopes and Oscar Onley (dsm-firmenich) and Marijn van den Berg (EF Education-EasyPost) took a small gap that was swept up as soon as the opening steep ramp of the main climb began at just a little over 3km to go.
The front end of the group was together again, though riders were flying off the back. At 2.5km to go more moves started to come, though an easing of the gradients quelled the momentum and it was still a lead group, though a thinning one at that, as they reached the last kilometre. It was up to Vader to then make the final deciding move in the final few hundred metres, and claim both his first pro victory and the leader's jersey in the last WorldTour race of the 2023 season.
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