How hurt is Dan Martin?
What had been an uneventful day in the GC race threatened to become a race-ending one for Dan Martin at the end, when he crashed on the uphill to the finish.
The Irishman did however manage to remount after not too long, and didn’t appear to have sustained any serious injuries from the fall — although we can’t know for sure just yet.
While it’s true that Dan Martin has an unfortunate history of crashing — to the extent that he’s even already had a high-profile fall on an uphill finish like this, when he crashed on the final corner of the 2014 Liège-Bastogne-Liège) — the Vuelta incident was a simple case of bad luck. If anything, the 34-year-old had done a very good job to position himself where he needed to be in the finale, right towards the front of the peloton, and just happened to be unfortunate that the rider in front of him hit the deck.
The question now is what, if any, the damage the fall has done to Martin — and we’ll probably get an answer on stage six in the mountains, where there will be nowhere for Martin to hide and nurse whatever injuries he might have sustained. Given the flying form he’s been on so far this week, it would be a real shame if this crash does end up having an adverse effect on his overall chances.
Crash controversially neutralises time gaps
The commissaires had a tricky call to make at the end of the stage. After little of note happening among the GC riders for 99 per cent of the day, everything suddenly burst into life on the short uphill rise to the finish, with Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) going down in a crash just moments before Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) attacked out of the peloton.
Roglič managed to open up a gap and finish a few seconds ahead of everyone else, leaving the commissaires a dilemma — should Martin (who went down within the three-kilometre threshold that the rules say negate time losses) be given the same time as Roglič, or as one of the trailing groups behind him?
After a delay at the end of the stage, it was eventually revealed that they had decided not just to give Martin and the other fallers the same time as Roglič, but for everyone in the peloton, negating Roglič’s small time gains.
It was a big reprieve not just for Martin, but also Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), who had been caught out by Roglič’s move and stood to lose seventeen seconds.
Roglič may have other ideas about whether or not it was the fair decision, however, given that the crash had little bearing on his attack. This one is likely to rumble on as a talking point.
Tim Wellens ends his 2020 drought
No-one at the Vuelta a España this week has tried harder to win a stage than Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal), and on stage five the Belgian’s efforts paid off as he defeated Guillame Martin (Cofidis) and Thymen Arensman (Sunweb) to take victory.
Having already gone out on the attack on both the opening two stages, Wellens again went up the road during the frantic beginning of today’s racing, although the break he found himself in appeared to have no hope when GC contender Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) infiltrated it.
Resolutely, however, he and Arensman attacked Kuss and the rest of the breakaway in an attempt to keep their chances alive, and, later being joined by Martin, were justified in their resolve as the peloton eased up and allowed them to contest for the stage.
Wellens has had to wait unusually long for this win. Normally a prolific winner who has claimed victory in every season since 2014, the Belgian was without a win this season both before and after lockdown, with a training ride crash ahead of a planned Tour de France appearance disrupting things.
He’s clearly rediscovered his form for the Vuelta, however, and can breathe a sigh of relief at having finally brought an end to his drought.
Sepp Kuss makes a nuisance of himself
By sneaking out of the peloton towards the start of the day and attempting to form part of the day’s breakaway, Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) was the most unpopular rider of the day.
By getting himself into the break, the American managed to frustrate both his breakaway companions, who knew that his presence essentially sounded the death knell for their chances of being allowed to make it to the finish and contest the stage, and the peloton, who now faced a chase in order to bring him back in.
Ultimately Kuss’ move was relatively short-lived, with Ineos Grenadiers reeling him in on Alto de Vio about 70km from the finish, it did suggest that Jumbo-Visma are adopting a different strategy to that used at the Tour de France.
In France, Kuss stuck pretty much always at Roglič’s side, used as a pace-setter on the final climbs, but here already he has gone out on the attack a few times on the climbs this week.
While he remains in sixth place at just 44 seconds behind his teammate in the red jersey, it seems Jumbo-Visma will use Kuss as a potential GC threat, and possibly even as a co-leader. It’s certainly making for exciting racing so far.
What were Total Direct Energie doing?
Stage five was always likely to be one for the breakaway, and that did indeed seem the most likely scenario once Kuss was caught and Wellens, Martin and Arensman remained up the road with a gap of over four minutes.
However, wildcard team Total Direct Energie did not see it that way, and set about making the pace on the final climb of the day, with the apparent intention of bringing them back.
At least, that’s what we assumed they were doing. It was difficult to gauge the team’s tactics, as they had neither an obvious candidate for the stage win, nor any GC rider hoping to gain time — their highest ranked rider, Julien Simon, was already nearly twenty minutes down in 38th overall.
The most likely explanation might therefore be that the riders were victims of some very old-school punishment dished out by their bosses. Having failed to make the day’s breakaway (despite the best efforts of Pim Ligthart, who had briefly gone clear in an earlier, failed breakaway), the team’s DS might simply have ordered them to ride as punishment. On what’s already been such a gruelling Vuelta, the riders certainly won’t have thanked them for that if this was indeed the case.