There was an uncanny sense of deja-vu to proceedings, as Wellens also won this penultimate stage and claimed the overall lead in last year’s edition. Just as then, his victory was achieved through a long-range attack, and he won with a gap of 49 seconds – just one second less than last year’s margin.
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This time round he made his move just before the start of the last lap of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège-inspired stage, and caught and passed the duo of Michael Rodgers (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) – who at that point led the race – on the Cote Saint-Roche.
Having then established himself as the sole leader on the road, Wellens was able to take the maximum nine seconds available at the golden kilometre, and build a lead of around one minute over the Kelderman group.
Before Wellens’ decisive attack, Greg van Avermaet had been the day’s chief instigator. His frequent digs caused several escape groups to form and fold, as well as whittling down the peloton and putting Kelderman’s Lotto-Jumbo team under serious pressure.
Having failed to follow Wellens’ move, though, Van Avermaet set off in pursuit of the Belgian himself, gaining six bonus seconds at the golden kilometre and finishing the stage in second.
Earlier in the day, an escape group of Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin), Jerome Baugnies (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), Jan Polanc (Lampre-Merida) and Sebastian Turgot (Ag2r-La Mondiale) got away, but were caught when the favourites started attacking each other.
Wellens now has just one day to defend his overall lead and claim his second successive overall win in the Eneco Tour.
Eneco Tour stage five: Heerlen – Houfalize
1. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, 5:28:46
2. Greg van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, at 49s
3. Simon Geschke (Bel) Giant-Alpecin, at 51s
4. Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R, at 1-03
5. Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Cannondale-Garmin, 1-07
6. Philippe Gilbert (Ned) BMC Racing, at 1-13
7. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, st
8. Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek Factory Racing, st
9. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana, st
10. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Lotto NL-Jumbo, 1-17
General classification after stage five
1. Tim Wellens (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 22:12:59
2. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing, at 1-03
3. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Lotto NL-Jumbo, at 1-17
4. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing, at 1-40
5. Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek Factory Racing, at 1-48
6. Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo, at 1-51
7. Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana, at 1-54
8. Christopher Juul Jensen (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo, at 2-05
9. Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 2-13
10. Jan Bakelants (Bel) AG2R, st