It was a day of change in the first summit finish of the Vuelta a Espana as Ángel Madrazo of Burgos-BH led a 1-2 for the team, winning the stage ahead of Jetse Bol and Cofidis’ José Herrada. Miguel Angel Lopez also returned to the top of the general classification.
Stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana had ‘wholesale change’ written all over it in terms of the general classification. The stage featured three climbs but it was the final one, the 11.7km climb to Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre, that would have the attention of the masses. Previously unused in the Vuelta a Espana, the climb would get its debut and it was set to be brutal, with 4km of the final 5km of the climb averaging between 10 and 12%.
The day was the first of the race to see a breakaway survive for the entire stage. A group of three riders broke clear and it was Madrazo in the king of the mountains, Bol and Herrada who would dictate the stage. They got a significant time gap, with their advantage over the peloton going up to 11 minutes at one point with 65km to go. Team Sunweb had played a significant role on the front of the peloton but they were succeeded by UAE Team Emirates who were looking after the interests of Fabio Aru.
With around 45km to the finish it looked like the destination of the stage was beginning to take shape as Herrada went on the attack from the breakaway. Bol went with him while Madrazo appeared to be struggling, falling back and conceding 14 seconds. The KOM leader kept the tempo up, however, and succeeded in rejoining the leading duo; as Jumbo-Visma and Movistar took over on the front of the peloton.
The break’s advantage stretched out to 10 minutes again but with no threats to the GC standings the peloton were left to their own devices but a significant crash towards the front of the peloton brought down a number of riders – primarily from Bahrain Merida – with Shane Archbold of BORA-Hansgrohe also stopped by the crash. Thankfully for the Flying Mullet, he was not floored by the crash – only halted – and he was able to get going again soon. The day was to be a quiet one for Archbold, with no sprint duties to attend to for Sam Bennett; with the objective being more about taking it as easy as possible.
At 30km to go the break’s lead had grown to over 11 minutes and Sunweb were back on the front of the bunch. That gap stabilised at a little over 10 minutes before slowly dropping to 9 minutes by the time the final climb of the day started with 11.7km remaining. The climb saw a battle for the front commence among the peloton, with Sunweb, Ineos, Jumbo-Visma, Movistar and BORA-Hansgrohe all jostling for control of the front of the peloton.
Up ahead with 7.3km to go Madrazo again got distanced by Bol and Herrada in what proved to be a very animated climb for the leaders. Repeatedly Madrazo would get dropped, regain contact, then stretch Bol and Herrada before being almost dropped again. With 5.8km to go Madrazo put in another attack and gained a lead of 6 seconds over Herrada with Bol on his wheel and not needing to chase. A huge chunk of their advantage had been taken away from them, with the time gap now down to 5.28mins with 5km to go.
The peloton, meanwhile, were still very compact. Little had been done by way of attacks, but the pace was very high from the likes of Jumbo-Visma and Sunweb; but still the numbers in the main field were high for this point on the climb. Madrazo was caught once again by Herrada and Bol and then was dropped again with just under 4km to go; each time it looked like he was done but once again he found a way to get back to the leaders.
Back down the road Tejay van Garderen took over the pace for Rigoberto Uran and this time their work on the front significantly thinned out the peloton; leaving a group no larger than about 20 riders strong and with George Bennett towards the back of the group but holding his ground. The first attack from the main field came from Alejandro Valverde as the leaders hit 3km to go. The pace from Jumbo-Visma brought him back to heel but Esteban Chaves, Rafal Majka, Rigoberto Uran and the red leader’s jersey of Nicolas Roche all lost contact with the pace set by Valverde and Jumbo-Visma. Keep in the mix, however, were the likes of Roglič, Miguel Angel Lopez and Fabio Aru.
With 2.6km to go Herrada and Bol were still in front, with the gap to Madrazo closing oh so slowly bit by bit in a energy-sapping chase by the polka dot jersey. George Bennett was now marking the red jersey who was losing group little by little; and was likely saying goodbye to the overall lead. Then an attack came from Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana, the Colombian accelerating away from Jumbo-Visma who’d kept up the pace for so long. There was no response from Roglič or from Valverde, which allowed Lopez to build his advantage.
Back down the road Roche saw open road ahead of him. He was able to drop Bennett eventually, but the Irishman faced a lonely race to the finish line. Also seeing the road open up ahead of them were Valverde and Roglič who were now forced to chase on their own.
With 1.6km to go Madrazo still had a gap of a little under 50 metres to make up on Herrada and Bol; but he wasn’t giving up on his hope of winning the stage. The polka dot jersey was closing still, but time was running out if he hoped to win the stage. Under the kite with 1km to go Herrada and Bol looked nearly certain of taking the win as the gap to Madrazo opened up just a little bit more. But then Madrazo made it back with less than 900m to go, having looked like he’d just run out of time.
Herrada was now in trouble, having done all the work up the climb with Bol on his wheel; and it was Madrazo who took over on the front of the break with 500m to go. Bol could well strike for the line, but it was the polka dot jersey who took his chance, accelerating away and claiming a valiant win as Herrada surrendered to the realisation that he had nothing left.
Madrazo celebrated his win, stunned at the day he’d had; as so too did Bol when he dropped Herrada to claim second. Herrada was a fatigued forlorn figure as he finished, with the time then becoming the big focus as Lopez crossed the line in 4th place at 47 seconds. Valverde and Roglič ended up conceding 12 seconds to him, with Nairo Quintana and Sep Kuss finishing behind UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar.
Nicolas Roche crossed the line 14th and 1.30mins behind Lopez; dropping down to 5th overall. George Bennett finished 21st at 2.36mins back on Madrazo; moving up to 15th overall at 2.29mins with Roglič now up to 2nd and just 14 seconds behind Lopez. Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde are now 3rd and 4th, with Rigoberto Uran the final rider to be inside of 1 minute on GC; 6th at 59 seconds.