John Degenkolb made it back-to-back victories in a difficult uphill sprint at the end of another blisteringly hot afternoon’s racing in which Michael Matthews extended his overall advantage and Chris Froome made a cameo appearance as a sprinter.
A routine flat stage? Anything but …
This was one of those ‘flat’ stages that the Vuelta specialises in, with a long cat 3 climb spiking up to 6% near its summit placed just 15km from a finish whose final 700 metres comprised a long ramp in excess of 3%. Add that to another day where the mercury again hovered around the 40°C mark and crosswinds which at one point split the peloton into three groups, and this was anything but a routine transition stage.
Ultimately, though, the day went to plan. A small break – initially two, then one as Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) suffered a mechanical which left Lotto-Belisol’s Pim Ligthart to broil on his own in the afternoon sun – made for a leisurely pursuit, with the average speed for the day a pedestrian 38kph.
Ligthart was gently reeled in before the final climb, which the peloton negotiated almost completely intact. Garmin-Sharp’s Andrew Talansky was the only notable victim in a group which had become detached in the earlier echelons and never regained contact. With the GC teams happy to gradually wind up the tempo to see their men through to the safety of the 3km banner, the sprint teams were able to keep a watching brief until the leg-sapping finale.
This wasn’t to be Nacer Bouhanni‘s (FDJ) day. Having been ambushed at the second intermediate sprint by Chris Froome (Sky), who got the jump on his team’s lead-out to take the two bonus seconds on offer behind Ligthart, his final sprint was baulked by a combination of Giant-Shimano’s Degenkolb maintaining a tight line to the barriers and fans hammering their air clappers against the hoardings. He had to settle for second place after an unsuccessful appeal confirmed the powerful German as the first multiple stage winner in this year’s race.
Behind the 13 men who contested the sprint, a five-second gap opened up as an unconcerned main bunch drifted across the line. Red jersey Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) was the only major player ahead of the split, meaning he extended his overall lead by five seconds. In the greater scheme of things it’s an insignificant footnote. Froome’s opportunistic two-second grab, however, may ultimately prove to be rather more important.
Ice, ice baby
Cycling is an increasingly high-tech sport, with riders taking advantage of cutting-edge lightweight frames, breathable fabrics and even working in wind tunnels to improve their aerodynamic efficiency in the quest for marginal gains.
But at times it’s positively Victorian, particularly when it comes to dealing with excesses of temperature. Riders still stuff newspapers down the front of their jerseys over the top of snowy high mountain summits. And, as Eurosport showed us in their pre-live segments, teams use a variety of decidedly low-tech methods to keep riders cool, from putting ice cubes in helmet vents to stuffing them into jerseys inside ladies’ tights. On four to five-hour days where temperatures can exceed 40°C, dehydration and weight loss become major issues – Trek’s Fabian Cancellara said he lost 4.5kg (10lb) in a single stage – affecting both in-race performances and riders’ ability to recover overnight.
It’s no easy life being a pro cyclist. We’ve seen at Milan-San Remo over the past couple of years that ice is no friend of the riders in the spring. Similarly, the highest passes in the Giro are often ridden on roads surrounded by huge banks of snow. At the Vuelta, though, in the height of the Spanish summer, ice is a rider’s friend.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Jack selected Degenkolb yesterday, so today I’m opting for Pim Ligthart. This really wasn’t a day to be riding at the front of the race on your own, with no shade and no company. But after Tony Martin dropped back, that’s exactly what Ligthart had to do, knowing full well that his was a futile cause on a day when the sprinters were never going to relinquish control.
This year’s king of the mountains at Paris-Nice was rightly awarded the day’s combativity prize. A sun hat and an ice bucket would probably have been more appropriate.
Stage 5 result
1. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) 4:01:21
2 Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) same time
3 Moreno Hofland (Belkin) s/t
4 Jasper Stuyven (Trek) s/t
5 Paul Martens (Belkin) s/t
1. Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) 18:12:31
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:13
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:20
4. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +0:24
5. Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) +0:26
6. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
7. Haimar Zubeldia (Trek) +0:29
8. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +0:32
9. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) s/t
10. Robert Gesink (Belkin) s/t
Points leader: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
King of the Mountains leader: Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural).
Combined jersey: Sergio Pardilla (MTN-Qhubeka).
Team classification: Belkin.