Australian rider Michael Matthews retained the overall lead of the Tour of Spain after Germany’s John Degenkolb won Tuesday’s fourth stage.
Degenkolb, second in this year’s Paris-Roubaix one-day classic, crossed the line in the 164.7km ride from Mairena del Alcor to Cordoba ahead of Spaniard Vicente Reynes with Orica-GreenEDGE’s Matthews in third after a fiercely-contested sprint finish.
Temperatures got close to 40 degrees Celsius in the southern region of Andalusia where the race has been run the last two days.
Matthews, who won two stages in the race last year, took the red race leader’s jersey after winning Monday’s third stage.
The 23-year-old – who is racing the Vuelta after he missed his main target the Tour de France this year having suffered a hand injury – leads his nearest rival Nairo Quintana from Movistar by eight seconds and Spain’s Alejandro Valverde by 15 seconds.
“It was definitely a hard stage with the final category two climb with about 25km to go,” Matthews said in a team statement.
“My team rode awesome again today, they did everything they could for me and got me in the right position in the final but it was a little bit hectic in the finish.
With some 35km left, two-time Vuelta winner Valverde broke away from the pack, followed by Winner Anacona of Colombia, Britain’s Adam Yates of Orica-GreenEDGE and Frenchman Romain Sicard.
The race then settled down as the following pack caught up and riders vied for tactical, team positioning until two kilometres from the finish.
Spanish five-time grand tour winner Alberto Contador, who fractured his right shin in a crash during the 10th stage of the Tour de France on July 15, has recovered race form and is ninth overall, 27 seconds behind.
Conditions are expected to be very hot again for Wednesday’s fifth stage, a 180km flat run from Priego de Cordoba to Ronda, also in Andalusia.