Jasper Philipsen takes the lead on sprinter stage wins
It was a chaotic sprint to decide the winner on stage five of the Vuelta a España 2021, as the wide boulevard failed to minimise the sketchiness for the riders.
But it was Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen who emerged victorious after a drag race to the line after a strong lead-out from his Alpecin-Fenix team.
It was a tense run in to the line after a nasty crash 10km from the finish and the long straight into the finish only added to the nervousness, as riders spread out across the road and lead-outs misjudged the distance.
Groupama-FDJ appeared to make the worst miscalculation, dropping their man Arnaud Démare off a long way from the finish, as he was out of position and had to settle for 10th place.
But it was a great result for Philipsen, who had shown promise during his early years as a WorldTour rider with UAE Team Emirates, before he stepped down to ProTeam Alpecin-Fenix for 2021.
Aside from victory in Scheldeprijs, Philipsen hasn’t delivered on the biggest stages and has been somewhat overshadowed by the performances of his team-mate Tim Merlier.
Philipsen was remarkably consistent in the Tour de France sprint, scoring six podiums but leaving the race without a career-defining stage win.
But in the Vuelta he appears to have found his rhythm, albeit against the second tier of world class sprinters.
With two wins in this year’s race, the 23-year-old has clearly found his confidence and edges in front of the other sprints, as Fabio Jakobsen is now the only other sprinter to have won a stage so far.
Change of leader as heavy crash 10km from the finish causes chaos
It was another tame day of racing out in Spain, as the pan-flat run over 184.4km offered no real excitement for most of the stage.
There was one defining moment late in the stage however, as a crash near the front of the bunch caused an upset 10km from the line.
The fall ricocheted through the peloton with multiple teams being impacted and, aside from one major general classification casualty, the crash also caused a shake-up at the top of the standings, as Rein Taaramäe came down in another fall.
Estonian rider Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) also fell on stage four, but luckily was uninjured and fell inside the final 3km so didn’t suffer any time losses.
But on stage five he wasn’t so fortunate, as he was caught up in the crash and needed a bike change.
He was able to get back on the bike, and team-mates did eventually drop back to help him, but it wasn’t enough to maintain his advantage in the GC, as he now hands over to Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo).
The Frenchman now leads but just five seconds to Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), the reigning champion who appears to be the new leader in waiting.
Bardet crashes out of the GC race
As I mentioned above, there was one major GC casualty in the 10km crash, as Romain Bardet (Team DSM) went down hard in the fall, finishing 12 minutes down on the stage and slipping out of the GC race.
It was another disaster for the French star, who just can’t catch a break in Grand Tours, as he tries to reinvigorate himself with a new team this season.
He raced the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, where his hopes of victory were tempered in the stage one time trial as he lost time to GC contenders and never really challenged for the podium.
Bardet came into the Vuelta brimming with confidence, but it wasn’t to be yet again.
The extent of his injuries aren’t yet clear and he may still abandon the race, but his GC hopes are certainly done.
Sprinters try to fight for points against the odds
The Vuelta is not a race for the sprinters, as race director Javier Guillen told me a few years ago.
But this year’s race actually offers up plenty of opportunities for the fast men, as stage five was the third bunch finish of the race so far.
The points classification at the Vuelta hasn’t been won by a sprinter since John Degenkolb in 2014 as the traditionally brutal climbing nature of the race means the lion’s share of the stages are won by climbers - could this year be different?
Philipsen scooped up a healthy number of points on stage five, leading the peloton across the day’s intermediate sprint and then securing his second stage win of the race.
He now retakes the points jersey from Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) with 131 points, just one point ahead of the Dutchman.
The question now is will the likes of Primož Roglič and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) claw their way back to the top of the points classification when the true mountains arrive.
Crosswinds fail to deliver the thrills
Stage five of the Vuelta was one of those days where only the weather could save a potentially boring day.
Despite all the experts suggesting (and hoping) that the wind may blow to shake up the race, they didn’t materialise, making it one of those Grand Tour stages.
It was a quiet day of racing with only three riders jumping into the inevitably doomed break, all Spanish pros from second-tier teams.
We’re all familiar with these kind of stages now and we all have our routines for trying to make the dull seem slightly interesting, but it does make inventing five ‘talking points’ a challenge for us cycling writers out there.
But fear not, stage six is a punchy uphill finish on the 1.9km, 8.7 per cent average gradient Alto de la Montaña de Cullera, before the mountains start for real on stage seven, so more excitement is on the way.
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