The Dauphine Libere sputtered into life at last on the tough Col de Joux-Plane. After an anodyne stage into Annemasse on Thursday, the favourites finally stopped hiding.
Robert Gesink, as expected, lit the blue touch paper at the Dauphiné. The relentless Col de Joux-Plane was perfectly suited to his abilities, and his attacking put Levi Leipheimer out of contention. More surprisingly, Alejandro Valverde and Cadel Evans also put in attacks.
Both Valverde and Evans insist they are only here for the training, but they are taking each other remarkably seriously. Now they are realistically the only two contenders left in the race, it is hard to imagine either giving up without a fight.
STAGE FIVE WINNERS
Looking increasingly comfortable and confident in the leader?s jersey. Mentions the Tour de France at every opportunity ? he?s either trying to deflect the pressure of what would be his biggest ever stage race victory, or he is going to be a big headache for his rivals in July.
Ganged up, along with Valverde and Gesink, on Leipheimer on the Joux-Plane. As with Valverde, there?s only one race in Evans? life ? the Tour. If he?s doing well here, he?s doing his best to create the impression that it?s a happy accident. Hinted to CW that he thought Valverde was peaking too early.
Started the stage 2-28 down; ended it 2-36 down, but in fifth place. Was the main instigator of hostilities on the Joux-Plane, adding to his growing reputation as a climber. The race isn?t over for the Dutchman ? he?ll be eyeing Levi Leipheimer?s third place overall with interest.
Brilliant, confident performance from Bouygues Telecom?s Russian. Cycling geeks know that he won the Etoile de Bessèges this year, but holding off the GC contenders on the Col de Joux-Plane is a new level. Looking very good for a place in the top 10, possibly even top five.
Zubeldia did what Zubeldia does best ? he gritted his teeth and held on to the lead group. Result ? another top 10 placing in a major stage race to tell the grandchildren about.
STAGE FIVE LOSERS
Fluffed his lines at the biggest target of his year. Was this mediocre performance worth riding round the Giro for three weeks in the middle of the bunch? For the first time this season, Astana look less than invincible in the stage races.
Sastre?s laid-back enough as it is, without riding around this race behind the top 20 ? CSC management must be spending the evening slapping him round the face, shouting ?wake up!?