Drawing on years of experience, Alejandro Valverde leads out sprint early and wins Pais Vasco's summit finish in Eibar, taking the GC lead.

Drawing on his years of experience, Alejandro Valverde sprinted to victory on a fast, narrow road atop the Vuelta al Pais Vasco’s stage 5 summit finish in Eibar, Spain Friday. The Movistar rider finished second on this mountain in the 2014 edition of the race. Knowing the final twists and turns, he led-out the sprint early and beat Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) was third. With the win, Valverde took the overall lead with one stage remaining.

“We have a great opportunity, but whatever happens I will be happy,” said Valverde. “This year I have eight victories, two tours, and now I’m leading in the Tour of the Basque country, so no matter how it goes I will be happy.”

Stage 5, top 10

Top-10 overall

The early breakaway was large with 18 riders on the attack on the 139.8km stage. American Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac), wearing the polka-dot king of the mountains jersey, was in the hunt for points on the day’s six categorized climbs. After stage 5, he held the lead in that classification by one point on Cofidis’s Yoann Bagot.

The peloton brought back the break in time for the final two climbs, and the attacks kicked off in earnest on Usartza, Friday’s final ascent. An early group of four formed: Valverde, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), and Sergio Henao (Team Sky).

As riders behind began to catch the front group, Woods set off alone, and he was soon joined by UAE Team Emirates’s Louis Meintjes. Behind, Valverde probed the chase group with a few small attacks.

When the steep climb crested, about three kilometers from the finish, Valverde’s group caught the leaders.

Bardet attacked first, just before the final kilometer, and Valverde was quick to respond. Then BMC’s Samuel Sanchez counter-attacked, but suddenly crashed on the fast run to the line. It appeared that he drifted off the right side of the pavement, into the soft ground, causing the late-race disaster.

None of the other leaders were caught out by the crash, and Valverde started the sprint early, with Uran on his wheel. However, there was not enough road left for the Colombian to come around the Spaniard in the sprint.

“After Samuel Sanchez crashed right in front of Rigo [Uran] and me, we both lost nerve a bit,” Woods said. “We were in a great position for the lsat 500 meters, but with that crash right in front of us, it’s easy to start pulling the brake a bit faster when you see something like that happen.”

Saturday’s stage 6 time trial around Eibar will be decisive, with the general classification in what is essentially a dead heat. The 27.7km individual test includes a climb right from the start and a mostly flat second half.

Stage 5 results

General classification