The 5th stage of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco was the queen stage and Diego Rosa (Astana) would reign supreme, taking a courageous win after a long solo escape. Sergio Henao (Team Sky) came home 2nd and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) finished 3rd.
The 159km between Orio and Arrate included no less than 8 categorised climbs and the rain would bucket down for all 159 of those kilometers today. The race began at a furious pace despite the conditions and the tough parcours that lay ahead. A number of riders attacked in the early stages but like yesterday, Team Sky kept trying to chase the break down. Natnael Berhane was very active, attacking and counter attacking countless times to eventually force a group of 14 riders clear.
While Team Sky kept the gap to a minimum, they never really shut it down completely. This allowed a number of riders to jump across the small gap until eventually 25 riders made up the lead group. Team Sky couldn’t sustain the pace and had to let this big group go. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka’s Eritrean champion was part of the move, but already he had spent a lot of energy just to make the break.
The gap was only able to grow to 2’30” before the lead group started the final 6 climbs of the day, which all came in close succession. Rosa was clearly on an incredible day as he attacked the break with still 100km to go. Nobody thought that was the last time we would see the Italian. As the tough conditions and climbs wore down the chasers and the peloton, Rosa pushed on to forge out a 7-minute lead for himself over the peloton.
The cooperation among the chasers wasn’t optimal and they all began to fade as LottoNL-Jumbo and Team Sky began pacing from the peloton. When the race started the 6th climb of the day, the majority of the early break was caught, including Berhane, while Rosa still had a good 6-minute lead. The peloton had also felt the effects of a tough day and numerous riders abandoned. The main group also only consisted of just 20 riders with 35km to go.
Serge Pauwels was showing he was once again a man for the tough days as he came to set the pace on this, the steepest climb of the day, before attacking over the summit. On the descent, Mikel Landa (Team Sky) and Simon Clarke (Cannondale) rode across the gap to our Belgian and the trio then picked up two riders from the early break. The 5 went over the penultimate climb of the day together and managed to arrive at the foot of the final climb with a 30″ gap back to the main favourites group.
As we hit the lower slopes of the final climb Rosa was out of sight and also out of mind, with an unassailable lead. The big names started attacking from the favourites group and Contador and Henao soon caught and passed the group of Pauwels with 5km to go. Pauwels was the last rider to surrender from the group of 5 as he held onto the wheel of Contador and Henao the longest. His fighting spirit was good enough to earn him 10th place on the stage, a great effort after such a difficult day. By finishing 2nd, Henao also went into the race lead with just tomorrow’s final time trial stage to go.
Serge Pauwels – Rider
This was a very hard stage. The weather was again pretty bad and there were a lot of climbs. On the steepest climb of the day I felt pretty good and decided to anticipate and to attack on the descent. Then Landa came across on the next climb and so we had a little advantage to start the finishing climb ahead of the Contador group. There I rode my own rhythm to finish top 10. I am happy with the result as this is the highest level of racing you can get.
Alex Sans Vega – Sport Director
This must be the most difficult week long stage race of the year. Again it was raining at the start and cold, and again there were a lot of attacks. The pace was really fast, eventually Natnael got into a group that got a few seconds. Then some more riders got across and they were able to take a few minutes on the peloton. It didn’t take long before there was more attacking, Rosa went clear and 4 guys were chasing him with Natnael’s group just behind them for most of the stage. On the very steep climb Natnael’s group was caught. Serge was feeling really good so he tried to go solo. On the descent he was joined by Landa, Clarke and two others. They started the last climb with a small lead and then the favourites started attacking. Serge was the last of the 5 to be caught, he kept his pace going as he was feeling really good and he ended with a top 10. On a day like today and after a hard week like we have had, this is a very good result.