As expected, Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria’s (Quick-Step Floors) three-stage win streak came to an end after a select group of 27 riders spread over a minute (1:05) crested the summit finish atop the Nongla Scenic Area of Stage 4.
Belgian Wellens (Lotto Soudal) was able to avoid a crash inside the final 5 kilometres and finish off the 3km climb with a narrow win over Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), followed by Irishman Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing), Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) and fellow Belgian Ben Hermans (BMC Racing) after a series of twisting S-shaped turns to the line.
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“It was right in front of me, so I saw the crash,” explained Wellens following the finish of fourth stage of the newly Christened six-stage UCI WorldTour race — the last of the season.
It was at very high speed. I was very happy that nobody from the team was in it, he continued. It looked like a nasty … I hope everybody is OK. We were lucky to avoid the crash.
A four-rider break did its best to get away on the 151km stage from Nanning to Mashan, extending to more than seven and a half minutes after 70km after launching at the stage’s 10km mark. Russian Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha-Alpecin), Dutchman Lennard Hofstede (Team Sunweb), Spaniard Antonio Molina (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Belgian Victor Campenaerts (LottoNL-Jumbo) all made a valiant attempt to ride clear to the finish before eventually being reeled in by a surging peloton led by both BMC and Quick-Step.
With the win, Wellens, who targeted Guangxi earlier in the season, lifts the red leader’s jersey from Gaviria and takes a four-second lead Mollema, nine over Roche and 12 over best young rider Alaphilippe, 25.
“I am always feeling good at the beginning and the end of the season, so I was especially motivated for the [Tour of Guangxi],” he said.
In the beginning I didn’t have super legs, but the whole team stayed with me today and gave me extra motivation and confidence, and in the final climb I had super good legs.
With two stages remaining, including Monday’s mountainous fifth stage that features four categorised climbs and 2,474metres of vertical climbing over the 212.2km route, Wellens is confident in his chances to successfully defend the lead until the race finale on Tuesday — a 168.1km city circuit in Guilin.
“I prefer to have a few seconds in advance than a few seconds back,” said Wellens. “Before the stage, I said today would be the [general] classification so I hope I’m right and I can keep the lead.
Tomorrow will also be a hard stage, but to gain seconds on the flat is not so easy. We have a very good team to control [the race]. Everybody is riding super good, so I have confidence in the team.
Although Gaviria concedes the overall lead to Wellens and the mountains jersey to Roche, the 23-year-old former track world champion and recent winner of four stages of the Giro d’Italia remains the points leader with an 11-point advantage over Suisse rider Silvan Dillier (BMC Racing).
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