Volta a Catalunya stage 5: Ethan Vernon scores from chaotic bunch kick
WorldTour rookie takes huge win as João Almeida moves to top of GC.
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Young Brit Ethan Vernon (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) won stage 5 of the Volta a Catalunya for a palmarès-topping win in Vilanova i la Geltrú.
WorldTour rookie Vernon beat Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) and Dorian Godon (Ag2r-Citroen) after a chaotic sprint marked by an approach riddled with road furniture and frenetic action.
Although all the favorites all finished safely in the bunch, there was a change at the top of the general classification, as João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) gained the one second he needed to take the leader’s jersey from Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) at an intermediate sprint 16.5km from the finish.
Top sprint, @EthanVernon22 👊#VoltaCatalunya101 pic.twitter.com/ypKYFV1FMf
— Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team (@qst_alphavinyl) March 25, 2022
Canadian champion Guillaume Boivin (Israel-PremierTech) led on the finishing straight, but faded into fourth as Vernon, Bauhaus and Godon passed him, with Vernon kicking to victory.
“It’s brilliant,” said Vernon at the line, conducting a career-first post-victory interview. “We weren’t too far off on stage two [when Vernan finished fourth], and I knew what I had to do to correct it. We did it today, and it worked perfectly.”
There was a messy run-in to the line following the intermediate sprint, where Almeida finished third behind Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X) and Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) to pick up the decisive one second.
Arkea-Samsic will have hoped that sprinter Hugo Hoffstetter could have helped protect Quintana’s GC lead in this sprint, but he was marginally edged out by the Portuguese rival in the messy sprint.
“It feels good to be leading the race. It was a bit tight in the bonus sprint, but I managed to take the second I needed,” Almeida said. “Now I’m the GC leader and it’s really nice. I think the final day will see bigger gaps for sure so it’s far from over.
“We had a plan in case the break was caught early today so we made a train and made a sprint for it. We made a couple of mistakes but in the end it went well. Our approach is going to be the same for the next days, tomorrow is not an easy day but the last stage on the circuit in Barcelona will be most decisive.”
Multiple attacks were launched in the aftermath of that sprint, with even some GC contenders including Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) getting involved.
In all the drama there were also some splits in the peloton, with Vernan among those riders caught out.
“It was quite chaotic. It split at the bonus sprint, just before the last climb. We missed the split, so we had to ride to bring it back.
“At that point I thought it was over because I could see the front of the race was miles away. The lads did a great job to bring it back and put me in a good position in the final kilometres.”
Vernan’s teammate and final lead-out man Ilan Van Wilder crashed inside the final kilometer, with many riders having to swerve around him to avoid going down themselves.
But generally Quick-Step AlphaVinyl did a great job in delivering Vernon to victory.
“Dries [Devenyns] rode all day for me, and the guys at the end when it split all were helping to bring it back, so without them I wouldn’t be here.”
Routine start, wild finale
A strong headwind that blew into the peloton for much of the race made this a long, slow day at the Volta a Catalunya.
Three riders braved the trying conditions by going up the road to form the day’s break: Gotzon Martin (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Joel Nicolau (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Urko Berrade (Equipo Kern Pharma).
They had established a lead by the top of the day’s only climb, the category three Coll de Comiols, where Nicolau took maximum points.
With the gap at 3-30, the drowsy peloton was at last shaken awake when UAE Team Emirates upped the pace following a change of direction 91km from the finish.
The peloton remained together, but the gap to the break plummeted rapidly, until it was down to just 30 seconds a mere 10km later as other teams battled to remain at the front.
The gap grew again, however, when the pace in the peloton slackened off again, and was back up to two minutes with 60km to go.
They were still kept well under control by the peloton, and the catch was made 20km from the finish, just prior to the intermediate sprint.
There was a fierce fight between Quintana’s Arkea-Samsix, Almeida’s UAE Team Emirates and Uno-X all vied for the best position heading into the sprint, with the latter two ultimately getting the better of Arkea-Samic.
In the aftermath of that sprint, Jan Bakelants (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert Materiaux), Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and a Lotto-Soudal tried to go clear, in a move that was the first of many attempts to slip clear of the peloton in the finale.
But the sprinters teams kept matters under control, setting up a bunch finish in which Vernon was triumphant.
Results will be available once stage has completed.