11/04 - Stage 5 - Eibar to Markina-Xemein - 160.2 km
This is yet another undulating stage. It’s up and down all day long with five categorized climbs on the menu. The final four climbs come within the last 40 km, which makes for a tough final again today. The general classification is starting to take shape but nothing is settled until after the time trial on Saturday. The last two climbs today (detailed profiles available) are where we find the steepest gradients today.
The top of the final climb comes with less 10 km to go. There is a full kilometer with an average gradient of 9.5 % near the top and this is where the GC riders might test each other. It’s not nearly as steep as the climb on stage 1, but it’s definitely steeper than the final climb on stage 3. Without any bonus seconds, riders out of the GC may be given green light to attack as the top favorites for the general classification will have their minds fixed on tomorrow’s time trial. However, those who are not strong against the clock, will have to attack on Alto de Aiastia. From the top of the climb it’s downhill almost all the way towards the finishing line. Only the last kilometer is flat.
The weather forecast shows 34 % risk of rain. Hopefully it stays dry so we avoid any bad crashes on the many tricky descents.
On paper, this would have been a great stage for a break to make it all the way. The GC riders will be happy to get a breather ahead of the time trial. However, Movistar’s lack of success might change this picture. Alejandro Valverde is the most succesfull rider this season, but so far he hasn’t been able to get it right in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. The way I see it, he made a terrible mistake by not cooperating with Alberto Contador on the final climb of stage 4. Had Valverde worked with Contador, the two riders would have sailed away for good and Valverde wouldn’t have had any problems outsprinting Contador to take the win. Instead, Wout Poels saw an opportunity and didn’t think twice when he attacked up front. Poels is clearly not one of those riders Vincenzo Nibali was talking about after Milano-San Remo…
The way I see it, Valverde won’t be able to win the final time trial. This means that he now needs to win stage 5, if he doesn’t want to end this race without a win. Movistar simply can’t afford to let another opportunity go to waste. The Spanish team has two options. 1) They put a strong rider like one of the Izagirre brothers in the morning break or 2) they work hard all day to set up Valverde on the final climb. I doubt Valverde will be able to solo away on the final climb, but should it end in a sprint within a reduced group, his chances of winning are quite good.
If it ends with such a sprint, Michal Kwiatkowski is another strong contender. I’ve mentioned this within the last couple of days, but I simply don’t understand why he was sprinting for secondary places on stage 2 and 3. It’s a waste of energy and on stage 4, he paid the price as he couldn’t follow the best riders on the final kilometers. The young Pole ended up losing seven (important!) seconds to the other GC riders. Kwiatkowski is now 41 seconds behind Alberto Contador and I think that’s too much for him to take back in the time trial - even though it suits him very well. Of course, a spot on the final podium is still a great achievement for Kwiatkowski and therefore, he may finally start to save a little energy before the time trial.
My person outsider pick for this stage is the world champion, Rui Costa. As mentioned the other day, Rui Costa didn’t have a very lucky start to the race. However, he seems to be getting better and a better and he’s been doing a great job keeping Damiano Cunego out of the wind and near the front. On stage 4, Rui Costa took it easy on the final climb, losing more than 18 minutes. His number one priority still is to make sure Cunego is doing well. However, he’s also very eager to finally take his first win in the rainbow jersey. So far, Rui Costa has finished second six times this season. A win today would really boost his confidence ahead of the Ardennes Classics.
In case a breakaway makes it, look to strong riders out of the GC like: Jan Bakelants, Bob Jungels, Michael Albasini, Bauke Mollema and his teammate from Belkin Stef Clement who won a stage from a breakaway in Volta a Catalunya last month. Philippe Gilbert might fancy this stage as well ahead of the upcoming Ardennes Classics. Gilbert is 8:28 min after Alberto Contador in the GC and seems to be doing very well right now. Like Rui Costa, the former world champion is also gunning for his first win of the season. It might come today.
Fast riders like Michael Matthews and Ben Swift may have a chance to make it over the last climbs in the peloton. However, I doubt they will be able to follow the best riders if Valverde or others start to attack. Instead, we might see Swifty trying to make it into the morning breakaway. He’s clearly in great shape and if he’s in the winning break, he will be tough to beat.
For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv