Simon Clarke of EF Education First-Drapac has won stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana.  The former king of the mountains took the stage ahead of Bauke Mollema and Alessandro De Marchi after surviving out of a breakaway.  There was a change in the leader of the race overall as well, with Rudy Molard of Groupama-FDJ taking the race lead off the shoulders of Michal Kwiatkowski.

 

Breakaway freedom once again with Molard the danger man

 

One of the many medium mountain stages of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana, it was surprising that despite the plentiful metres of climbing there was only one categorised climb, a category 2 ascent that peaked with 26.7km to go.  The day was once again primed for a breakaway to take a shot at the stage, and 25 riders duly obliged.  De Marchi, Clarke, Mollema and Molard were all present in the move, but so too were the likes of Brent Bookwalter of BMC Racing, Matteo Trentin of Mitchelton-Scott, Andrey Amador of Movistar, Sepp Kuss and Floris De Tier of LottoNL-Jumbo, Davide Villella of Astana and Gianluca Brambilla of Trek-Segafredo.  In fact of the 25 riders represented in the break only Quick-Step Floors and Team Sky had no one in the move.

Davide Villella, Floris De Tier and Rudy Molard came so close to contesting the stage after the leaders played cat-and-mouse games in the final kilometres, photo Sirotti

However, with Quick-Step Floors not interested in taking up the chase it was down to Team Sky to monitor matters.  They seemed unfazed about giving the breakaway a long leash, 6 minutes worth, which was a risky move as Rudy Molard started the day with just 3.46mins deficit.

But rather than Molard it was Alessandro De Marchi who really pushed matters to stay away, attacking the break with 90km to go and after dropping lone companion Stephane Rossetto of Cofidiss; the Italian was joined by Bauke Mollema and Simon Clarke with 50km left to race.  The break behind them capitulated gradually behind them, but three riders did emerge in pursuit of the leading trio; Rudy Molard, Davide Villella and Floris De Tier.  Their gap was less than a minute as the final climb peaked, but from there the superior descending skills of the leaders became evident as they built their lead up to over a minute.

 

Clarke, De Marchi & Mollema jostle for the stage

 

Despite losing ground to the leaders, however, the chasing trio were persistent in their effort, with Molard knowing that the stage win might be slipping from his grasp; but the race lead very much on the cards.  

Clarke, De Marchi and Mollema looked assured of the stage with the descent completed and they could turn their attention – not to race leadership – but the opportunity of taking the stage saw attacks start in the trio as early as 6km from the finish with Bauke Mollema and Alessandro De Marchi.  Of the three Clarke clearly looked most confident that he could take the sprint finish, but that didn’t stop him from making a bit of a move with 3km to go himself.  The stop-start nature of the leaders vs the persistent driving of the three behind meant that the gap came down in the final couple of kilometres to less than 45 seconds.  At 2km to go it looked like the three riders would come to a near standstill in a bid for victory.

All the while Team Sky were working very hard on the front of the peloton, unsupported by anyone else, but red was slipping out of their grasp.  At 1.4km to go the gap went down to just 20 seconds to De Tier, Molard and Villella, as the games continued from the leaders.  Under the kite with 1km to go De Marchi had the lead as the riders got ready for the final sprint following the last corner.

We have a new leader of the Vuelta a Espana. Rudy Molard now leads the Vuelta by just over a minute, photo Sirotti

Molard takes red from Kwiatkowski

 

The Italian led, but Molard, De Tier and Villella were breathing down their necks at just a few seconds behind.  The BMC Racing rider opened up the sprint, but Clarke came through to take the win with Mollema second and De Marchi third.  The persistence of the chase group behind them saw Villella lead De Tier and Molard over the line just 8 seconds later; and from there the clock was running to the peloton.  

Sky led the bunch across the line, with George Bennett in tow, 4.55mins behind Simon Clarke, and 4.47mins behind Molard; giving the Frenchman the overall lead by 1.01mins.

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