There’s no such thing as an easy stage at the Vuelta al País Vasco, considered by many in the peloton the most challenging weeklong stage race of the year.
Friday’s hilly and rainy fifth 183km stage from Bera de Bidasoa to Oñati proved that to be true yet again. Attacks came fast and early in the five-climb rollercoaster over the green hills of Basque Country and the peloton broke into pieces in the high-paced finale.
Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) won his second straight stage ahead of Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to carry the race leader’s jersey into Saturday’s 18.9km individual time trial on a day when Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) and Tony Martin (Omega Lotto-Pharma) both gave up 23 seconds that could prove costly on Saturday.
“I am very happy. Today was not expected. I knew there was a climb in the end and I wanted to give it a try, not to win the stage but to take some time on the other favorites ahead of tomorrow’s time trial,” he said. “I ended up with Samuel. He was interested in fighting for the GC and I tried to catch his wheel on the descent. I managed to catch it and I took a little bit of advantage of him.”
Robert Kiserlovski (Astana), who started the stage 24 seconds back, snuck into a late-stage, nine-man breakaway and made a brave solo effort over the day’s last obstacle, forcing the GC favorites such as Sánchez to lead the chase over the Cat. 2 Alto de Asentzio.
Kiserlovski hit the final 13km nursing a promising 43-second lead to the desperately chasing GC pack. A final, unrated hump with 3km to go foiled his plans.
Sánchez and Rodríguez counter-attacked on the short, punchy climb, catching Kiserlovski with just over 2km to go. Sánchez used his top descending skills to open a gap on the wet and treacherous descent, but “Purito” caught his wheel coming under the red kite and finished off the sprint for the win.
Horner, a winner here in 2010 and second last year, couldn’t quite answer the explosive pace on the final climb, becoming unhitched from the front group and coming across the line 23 seconds adrift. Martin also lost the same amount of time.
Horner will have his work cut out for him Saturday and will start at 44 seconds behind Rodríguez in tomorrow’s TT.
Rodríguez will start with a nine-second lead on Sánchez, whom he admitted is the favorite for overall victory.
“Tomorrow’s ‘chrono’ will be very technical, very hard, with this same climb and descent that we covered today,” Rodríguez said. “I got some time today that might allow me to be on the podium, but seeing how Samu is right now, I hope he can win the Vuelta al País Vasco this year.”
Team Sky’s Lars Peter Nordhaug and Sergio Henoa kept up their solid rides this week, crossing the line fifth and 13th, respectively, at 5 seconds and 10 seconds off the pace.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda) had another solid ride, finishing at 12 seconds back to settle into eighth overall at 40 seconds adrfit.