Alexey Lutsenko has won stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana. The Astana rider took the win from the day’s breakaway, fending off the challenge of Merhawi Kudus and Marc Soler to win solo by a comfortable margin. Chris Froome continues to lead the race overall with Vincenzo Nibali this time being among those to lose time.
Stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana took the field from Benicàssim to Alcossebre, 175.7km over five categorised climbs, but it would be the final 3.4km climb to the finish which would be most important, and likely decisive as the GC contenders fought their way forward to try and challenge the lead of Chris Froome.
Break of the day too strong for some
A 16-man move formed the break of the day with a number of teams represented. Julian Alaphilippe was the danger man to watch for Quick-Step Floors, but there was also plenty of strength elsewhere in the move courtesy of Movistar’s Ruben Fernandez and Marc Soler, Alexis Gougeard of AG2R La Mondiale, Lutsenko of Astana, Merhawi Kudus of Dimension Data, Valerio Agnoli of Bahrain-Merida and more. The stage did, however, begin without John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo who was forced to withdraw from the Vuelta due to illness.
Team Sky, predictably, took on the chase responsibilities, holding the break at no more than about 4.30mins deficit. The break could be considered too strong to go all the way to the line, and there certainly seemed to be a feeling in the break that the numbers were too big for the whole move to continue on together. In fact on the penultimate climb of the day the attacks began to go, but no dice was shown just yet from the rest of the break who weren’t prepared to allow anything to go clear yet. Heading towards the summit of the penultimate climb the break stretched their lead to 4.50mins but from there the advantage dropped once again.
Behind the break Team Sky continued to lead the peloton that allowed the break’s lead to increase to over 5 minutes; indicating that the race from the bunch would not be for stage honours. Perhaps that information filtering through was the confidence boost the break needed to go on the attack and with a bit more success this time. Marco Haller of Katusha-Alepcin was the first to gain a significant gap on his breakaway companions, who chose the downhill following the climb as his launch pad for the attack.
Haller & Lutsenko combine
With 33km to go Haller found company in Alexey Lutsenko and UAE Team Emirates’ Matej Mohoric, with the remnants of the break now having to ask questions around how well they’d cooperate with each other to bring back the move, that at this point was still within touching distance; but the gap was growing. With 30km to go the gap from the trio to the break was sitting at 25 seconds, with 5.35mins to the peloton. Mohoric’s stint at the front of the race was short lived as he found himself dropped, leaving Haller and Lutsenko on the front.
Behind the leading duo another attack from the breakaway was threatening to challenge the leaders. This one featured Julian Alaphilippe, Alexis Gougeard, Marc Soler and Merhawi Kudus. At the point of attack they were sitting at about 50 seconds behind the leaders, but that gap quickly reduced to 30 seconds with 21km to go. But the gap struggled to drop further from there, with Haller and Lutsenko still holding 25 seconds of lead with 19km to go. Haller was definitely taking things easiest of the two leaders, with Lutsenko appearing content to work and work hard, but eventually another attack came from the chase group courtesy of Alexis Gougeard and Kudus.
With 10km to go the duo had cut a few more seconds into the leaders’ advantage, bringing it back to 15 seconds before the lead stretched a bit more. In fact with 6km to go the gap had stretched again to 30 seconds. Behind all this the peloton seemed to idle a little, allowing the break’s lead to go upwards of 7.20mins. Their battle would come later.
Lustenko hits for home
Nearing the base of the final climb Lutsenko and Haller continued to enjoy a 30 seconds advantage, but from here it was game on. The climb was a brute despite being short, with the climb going up to some 20%, and averaging 10%. Lustenko was quickly on the front, and the Kazakh rider looked comfortably stronger, dropping Haller with 3km remaining. There was nothing Haller could do about Lutsenko’s attack, with Lutsenko simply riding away, while behind Haller Kudus and Gougeard didn’t look like they were doing enough to bring back the deficit.
Kudus was prepared to throw caution to the wind though, dropping Gougeard with a powerful acceleration and slowly but surely eating away at the deficit. Meanwhile the positioning game was beginning in the peloton, with their pace ramping up, knowing that the climb was approaching for them too.
But despite Kudus’ efforts, which saw him catch and pass Haller easily, there was nothing he could do about Lutsenko’s pace which simply continued on, with his advantage at 43 seconds with 1.5km to go. Behind them there appeared to be a little drama in the peloton. BMC Racing were leading the way with Tejay van Garderen positioned second wheel on the run in to the climb, but Team Sky were way down the main field. Louis Meintjes, Vincenzo Nibali and Esteban Chaves were all well positioned, as was Alberto Contador. But where was Chris Froome?
Moscon piles on pressure as rivals crack
Up ahead with 1km to go Lutsenko had 36 seconds in hand on Kudus. It appeared that as the final kilometre continued to bite Lutsenko might have expended too much energy, as the Kazakh rider looked behind him to see how much of a lead he had over Merhawi Kudus. But Kudus was suffering too. Lutsenko dug deep and after cresting the summit of the climb he was finally able to smile, knowing that he’d done enough to enjoy the final metres to the line.
In the GC group it was all about the GC challengers and Team Sky had managed to fight their way back to the front. Chris Froome was sitting second wheel behind Gianni Moscon who set a furious pace that even Froome looked to be struggling to keep up with. Moscon’s pace was frightening, and it paid its toll with only Esteban Chaves looking comfortable on Froome’s wheel. Moscon’s pace was enough to shake Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale.
The final kick to the line with 500m to go saw Chris Froome take over from Moscon and drive things further, as Simon Yates found himself dropped. Along with Chris Froome the group suddenly looked radically smaller, with Alberto Contador, Tejay van Garderen, Esteban Chaves and Michael Woods the only riders able to keep pace with him. Suddenly Alberto Contador launched a move to distance Van Garderen. Froome held his wheel with Michael Woods and Esteban Chaves putting 8 seconds into Van Garderen.
Behind them riders crossed the line desperate to limit their losses. Adam Yates, Ilur Zakarin, Fabio Are lost 11 seconds to Froome. Warren Barguil, Simon Yates, Carlos Betancur lost 21 seconds; with Vincenzo Nibali losing a further 5 seconds. But it was Romain Bardet who lost 49 seconds and Louis Meintjes at 55 seconds who lost the most in the GC battle.
George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo was the first Kiwi across the line in a small group containing Adam Hansen, while Tom Scully, Aaron Gate and Sam Bewley all arrived home together in another group further back.