The final 500 meters of Saturday’s Vuelta a España stage were filled with drama.
Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) outmaneuvered his two breakaway companions on stage 5 into Sabiñanigo to win on a tricky finish that featured two hard bends and a steep pitch.
As the overall favorites rushed in two minutes behind, race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) sprinted into the tight chicane at 350m to go, taking out the front wheel of José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), which brought down riders like second-placed Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), who piled in behind.
Roglič powered up the hill and came across the line a few seconds ahead of the bunch, but he and the rest of the peloton were ultimately assigned the same time, following the race’s rule for crashes inside the final 3 kilometers.
So, the times for the top of the general classification remained as they were at the day’s start, with Roglič leading Martin by 5 seconds and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) by 13 seconds.
“It feels super good,” Wellens said of his victory, which came after a hard year for him with no wins. “My daughter always says, no ups without downs. Today was super hard. We were lucky enough to be at the front in the end. The combination was super good [in the break]. One victory was the goal of the team here, and now we can ride without stress.”
Wellens was joined off the front for the latter half of the 186km day from Huesca to Sabiñánigo by 27-year-old Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and 20-year-old Thymen Arensman (Sunweb), who was just called up in July from Sunweb’s development team.
As the trio of Arensman, Martin, and Wellens came under the final kilometer red kite, Arensman attacked. Wellens was able to immediately mark him, with Martin struggling to regain contact.
As the road pitched sharply upward to 500m to go, Wellens took the front, and then accelerated at 250m to go, with Martin just hanging on, and Arensman distanced.
Just over two minutes later, the general classification drama ensued, with a hard sprint, a touch of wheels, and riders on the floor.
How the stage played out
Attacks started flying as soon as racing began. After a 15-man break was caught, two moves coalesced to form a 12-man group that would become pivotal on the day. The riders involved were Wellens, Martin, Arensman, Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), Robert Power (Sunweb), Jefferson Alveiro Cepeda (Caja Rural), Mark Donovan (Sunweb), Fred Wright (Bahrain-McLaren), Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Matteo Badilatti (Israel Start-Up Nation), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), and Callum Scotson (Mitchelton-Scott).
The American Kuss was the best-placed rider in the group, just 44 seconds down on the general classification behind his Jumbo-Visma team leader Primož Roglic.
At 82km, the dozen had nearly a minute on the peloton led by Ineos Grenadiers.
As the day’s terrain transitioned from rolling to mountain climbs, Wellens and Arensman attacked their breakaway companions, with Martin deciding a bit too late to attack and chase.
It took Martin more than 15 minutes to bridge to Wellens and Arensman, finally catching them at 68km to go.
Behind, as the breakaway made its way up the the Cat. 2 Alto de Vio, riders began coming out the back. Soon, there were just six men left in that chase group: Power, Donovan, Kuss, Bagioli, Badilatti and Oliveira.
Kuss tried to attack at 65.4km to go but caught nowhere, and the peloton, being led by Ineos Grenadiers, pulled the Kuss group back with 64km to go.
Ahead, the trio’s lead ballooned about to 2:46 over the top of the Cat. 2 Alto de Vio at 59km to go.
From the summit, the racers faced a quick 200m drop down to the Cat. 3 Alto de Fanlo, then once over that, with a 3:23 gap, a longer plummet to the foot of the final climb of the day, the Cat. 2 Alto de Petralba.
Ineos rode the front, with Jumbo-Visma just behind until the valley before the last climb, where they peeled off and let Jumbo-Visma ride an easy tempo at the front. As the peloton took a moment to refuel and regroup, the leaders began the final climb with a 4:30 gap.
Over the top of the final climb, the gap was under three minutes with just an 18km downhill run left to the finish.
Within the last 3km, the trio started looking around at each other, as the mode switched from all-out collaborative time trial to competitive cagey finishing.
While a breakaway took the day, it was anything but uneventful for the GC riders.
“It was a fast stage with a lot of wear and tear,” said Ineos team leader Richard Carapaz. “We got through it okay, and tomorrow is a big day. We have a clear objective and that’s what we’re working toward.”
Results will be available once stage has completed.