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CHIETI, Italy (VN) — Joaquim Rodriquez (Katusha) emerged from an elite group of strongmen to win stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico on Sunday as Chris Froome (Sky) rode into the overall lead.
Rodriguez used the final climb to leap away from a lead group containing Froome, Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard), among others.
Bauke Mollema (Blanco) took second, just out-kicking Contador, who collected the red points leader’s jersey for his troubles.
“I’m very happy for this performance,” said Rodriguez. “It was very important both for me and for the team, since it’s the first in a WorldTour race. We were very careful from the beginning to the end, because we knew it was very difficult to win here in Chieti: everybody was expecting something from me, they know these finals are my specialty.”
Froome, meanwhile, finished sixth on the day to take the overall lead by 20 seconds over Contador with Nibali third in the same time.
“Every day we come in with a pretty solid plan and it seems to keep coming off,” Froome said. “That’s not a position you find yourself in too often so it’s a really cool feeling to be part of a team like this who can go out and not only stick to the plan but get a result out of it too.”
Overnight leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) slid to fourth at 24 seconds, while Horner moved up a spot into fifth at 37 seconds.
The 230km stage from Ortona to Chieti was marked by an eight-man break: Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Valerio Agnoli (Astana), Michael Schar (BMC Racing), Maxim Belkov (Katusha), Sebastian Langeveld (Orica-GreenEdge), Stijn Devolder (RadioShack-Leopard) and Oscar Gatto (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia).
Cunego gave the slip to the break and went it alone. With 27km to go he had an advantage of 1:20 over the peloton, led by Team Sky on behalf of second-placed Froome. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad of race leader Kwiatkowski was slotted in just behind.
Twenty kilometers from the finish Cunego’s edge had dipped under a minute. It hovered there for the next dozen kilometers as the peloton caught its collective breath, preparing for the inevitable catch and bunch sprint.
He was pulled back with just under 7km to race and Sky stayed on the front. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Horner and Contador hovered nearby.
But soon Sagan was off the back and losing ground. And shortly thereafter Froome, Contador, Nibali, Horner, and Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) took off on a rise.
Kreuziger soon dropped the others, but Andrey Amador Bikkazakova (Movistar) joined and it looked like a two-man time trial to the finish.
But the chase quickly overtook the two leaders and there were a dozen men fighting it out for the lowers in the final 2km. Froome took the front on the final climb, but Rodriquez shot past him on the right with 1.2km to go and went on for the stage win.
The Sky captain, meanwhile, was focused on the overall.
“I had heard [Kwiatkowski] was slipping back which did motivate me a little bit more, but to be honest I was already going full gas,” said Froome.
“We put a lot of pressure on the leader’s jersey and I think it paid off at the end of the stage as he eventually cracked on that final climb and I was able to get a gap over him.”
As for Rodriguez, the Katusha rider knows the overall is out of reach but says he’s not done yet.
“Tomorrow there will be another long, demanding stage,” said Rodriguez. “We’re not fighting anymore to win the final classification, but we will try to take a good result anyway, also because my teammates are in a great shape. We should put one of us in the breakaway, then we will attempt something, we have nothing to lose.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from Tirreno-Adriatico.