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From the team car you see the attacks as little fits of irregular pedaling, the rhythm of the riders disrupted and disjointed. The group strings out a little, maybe. A darting motion here. A flash of red, a flash of blue. To the untrained eye, it’s hard to tell what’s going on, but UHC’s Rachel Heal knows immediately. We’re the third team car in the caravan on account of Sharon Laws sitting in third position on the GC. Even still, we have to look through or around both Astana’s and RusVelo’s vehicle, plus the Commisairre’s sedan, to get a good look.
There were plenty of attacks today, but none of them stuck for very long. With the opening 14k climb and following descent neutralized, the race effectively started about 20k in—the biggest climb of the day rendered impotent. Rolling terrain followed, the pure sprinters were spit out the back, and the rest carried on toward the finish in Santa Ana.
When we hit the 10k-to-go banner, all the major players were together, and a few put in promising digs, but by the time we started down the narrow streets leading into town, everyone was out of sight and we could only guess what was happening up ahead. What was happening was Flavia Oliveira. The tiny Brazilian escaped the charging Alena Amialiusik (Astana) and Olga Zabelinsksaya (RusVelo) to win the sprint.
The win moved Oliveira up from 8th to 5th place on the GC, but the top three remained unchanged; Zabelinskaya holds a 13 second advantage over Amialiusik with UHC’s Sharon Laws another 11 seconds behind.
Today’s stage is a short 43.8k route from Paseo del Carmen to El Boqueron but despite its length, the stage has teeth; the finish is a 14k climb with a stiff gradient in the final 3 kilometers that will provide a stage for another GC battle. Sunday’s fifth and final stage features a fast course that is primarily downhill, so tomorrow could well be the deciding moment for the overall race lead.