Max Richeze wins amid San Juan chaos
The home rider took a victory to the delight of his countrymen, on a day that saw Fernando Gaviria abandon through injury.
Maximiliano Richeze stepped up for Quick-Step Floors after the team lost Fernando Gaviria following a crash and nabbed his fifth stage win at the Vuelta a San Juan, taking the team's all-time tally in Argentina to 17 victories.
It was a crazy and atypical day at the South American race, where overnight heavy rain complicated things during the stage and even forced the organizers to neutralize the race in the final 20 kilometers so that the riders could pass a river that overtopped its banks and flooded the road. That wasn't the only incident on the last stage before a rest day, with a crash occurred about 50 kilometers from the finish taking several riders to the ground.
Stage 1 winner Fernando Gaviria was among those involved, and the 23-year-old, the main favourite in case of another bunch sprint, was taken to the San Juan hospital for further tests, after initial on-ground examination by the team doctor didn't reveal any broken bones. The Colombian, racing his first event of the season, came out of this incident with multiple abrasions and a deep wound on the left knee; the doctors will keep him at the hospital for further examinations, but fortunately the tests he underwent so far didn't show any kind of fractures.
From then on, the tempo intensified and the peloton split into four groups, all five remaining Quick-Step Floors riders making it to the front and sharing the pace duties with two other teams, as they rode full gas to Villa San Agustin. With two kilometers to go, our sprint train began assembling, combining physical presence, positioning, timing and speed, and thus prevailing against the other teams interested in the sprint.
Neo-pro Alvaro Hodeg was the one to launch Maximiliano Richeze with under 200 meters to go, and the 34-year-old put in an incredible rush towards the line which held off the efforts of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Matteo Pelucchi (Bora-hansgrohe) and was welcomed with huge cheers by the hundreds of Argentinean supporters at the finish, who celebrated "El Atomico's" maiden victory of the season.
"From the start I had good feelings in the legs, but I was also advantaged by the headwind on the climbs, which allowed me to sit in the wheels of the stronger guys. With the rain we had during the night we knew it would be dangerous out there, and unfortunately we were struck by bad luck when Fernando crashed and had to abandon. The radio communication was also down, so it was only later that we found out he wasn't in the race anymore", said Richeze after the podium ceremony.
The Argentinean – whose victory in Villa San Agustin was his 26th since turning pro – continued: "When we got the news about Fernando, we moved to the front and pushed hard to keep the chasers behind together with Lotto-Soudal. My teammates did a great job, they were instrumental in my victory today, what they usually do for Fernando they did for me, and I want to thank them for helping me get this win, which is also for Fernando. I'm a pro for 13 years, but haven't been riding a lot in my country, so every time I find myself here I am happy and try to repay my fans for their fantastic support. Result-wise, it's been a good race for us so far and we hope we won't stop here."
Stage 4 of the Vuelta a San Juan – the longest of the week – was a good one also for Jhonatan Narvaez, the Ecuadorian neo-pro who impressed in Tuesday's individual time trial. The 20-year-old climbed three positions in the general classification and now lies in fifth place, only 43 seconds adrift, ahead of Alto del Colorado, the sole mountain top finish of the race.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images