Stage 5 of this year’s Vuelta a Espana had the flattest profile of all the stages – a bunch sprint was a sure thing. Cycling fans, teams, and commentators alike, feeling starved of drama and excitement and desperate for a dose of action, had spent time pre-stage hyping up the potential for crosswinds and echelons, which, sadly, came to nothing. The stage, which proved to be an extremely dull affair, marred by a horrendous crash at 11.6km, but which also saw a second impressive stage victory for Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), felt extremely bittersweet. Rein Taaramae (Intermarche Wanty Gobert), caught up in the crash and unable to get sufficiently close to the front group, ended the day losing the red jersey to Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo), while DSM’s Romain Bardet‘s grand tour bad luck continued, coming down hard in the crash and finishing the stage battered, bruised and with the biggest loss from all the GC contenders.
After a quiet opening three stages it was probably a little naive of us to be placing our hopes and dreams of some grand tour excitement and drama on Stage 4‘s flat (ish! for La Vuelta) profile. Would there be echelons? No – no matter how many times a certain commentator mentioned them. Would we see some GC guys have a little dig on the final small, yet steep-ish, ramp (I told you, it was flat-ish!)? No. Would we indeed get any action? No. What did unravel was a classic GT sprinters stage – the breakaway, the catch, the bunch finish. But, come the end of the stage there wasn’t an unhappy cycling fan in the universe, thanks to a strong comeback win by Deceuninck QuickStep’s Fabio Jakobsen! A tumble in the closing kilometres for Rein Taaramae while looking resplendent in the red jersey, meant that he finished some time behind the bunch, but with his GC lead safely intact, thanks to the 3km rule.
The first mountain top finish of this year’s spicy Vuelta a Espana! Surely it would deliver us eye-watering fireworks packed with excitement and good racing and whet our appetites for the upcoming two and a half weeks of racing. Right?! Wrong! With Primoz Roglic and his Jumbo Bees largely disinterested in defending the leader’s jersey so early, the gap to the breakaway was allowed to swell tremendously, all but ensuring victory. After a slow-moving day, Estonian time trial champion Rein Taaramäe reigned victorious for Intermache-Wanty atop Picon Blanco. American superstar Joe Dombrowski came home second whilst “King Kenny” Elissonde rounded out the stage podium.