Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) achieved what seemed like an impossible solo success to win stage five of the Volta a Catalunya, dropping his breakaway companions and holding an agonising 20 second lead into the final kilometres.
The German was part of a dangerous looking four man quartet which escaped the grasp of the peloton with around 140km of the 188km stage to go.
The eventual winner’s companions included Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First), Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Bert-Jan Lindeman (Jumbo-Visma) – but sensing termination of their effort as the finish line drew closer, the Bora-Hansgrohe rider left them in his wake at 11km remaining.
Michael Matthews (Sunweb) brought the peloton home, 13 seconds behind the leader, with Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data) third and Astana’s
Miguel Ángel López maintaining his lead in the general classification.
There were several abandonments – Enrico Gasparotto (Dimension Data) and Maxime Monfort (Lotto-Soudal) did not make the start, with Álvaro Hodeg (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) abandoning after getting dropped and Axel Domont (AG2R La Mondiale) crashed out.
Team Sky’s Egan Bernal was brought down in the final kilometre, but carried his bike over the line with no clear injuries.
How the race unfolded
Riders began the fifth stage of the Volta a Catalunya, from Puigcerdà to Sant Cugat Del Vallès, with their bikes pointing upwards from the start line on the ascent to Port de la Collada de Toses.
Lindeman was first over the opening climb, flanked by van Garderen, Andrey Amador (Movistar) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal).
The points collected put De Gendt into pole position in the mountains jersey – ahead of Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) by 11 points.
The ascent was followed by a fast 50km downhill before the road pitched up again- albeit for the relatively short and shallow 4.1km Collet de Sant Augustí, at four per cent.
It was on the descent that the break of the day made its move. With 123km to go, they’d managed to collect a lead of two minutes 25 seconds.
All four riders have Grand Tour stage wins to their name, representing a very real threat if allowed enough empty road between themselves and the majority.
Cresting the climb, Amador was the first man over the summit, ahead of van Garderen and Lindeman – whilst Schachmann was quickest at the intermediate sprint with 102km to go, by which point the break had gathered up a three minute lead.
From here on, the day’s climbs were over, with just rolling terrain and a few ramps to contend with.
Inside the 50km to go mark, the peloton began to show signs of a chase and the gap began to sink, down to 2-25. A flat, fast finish and a collection of likely sprinters hiding within the pack meant the quartet’s lead looked likely to be eroded.
Rolling roads gave the breakaways an opportunity to pick their own lines on the descent with 40km to go, but their chances of holding off the bunch looked to be dwindling, with the lead down to 1-43 at 34km remaining.
Heading the peloton, Arkéa-Samsic had a notable presence, putting pressure on the pace with sprinter André Greipel safely nestled in the body of the bunch. At this point there was little change in the time gap, with 1-45 between the two groups on the road at 25km to go.
Other fast men looking to stay sheltered and contend a bunch gallop included Matthews, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) – and with less than 18.5km to go Sunweb had a notable cluster at the front too as the gap sunk to 1-18.
The break’s advantage hovered just above the minute mark with 13km left – several tight roundabouts slowing the bunch marginally, but not enough to give the break much confidence.
With 11.3km to go, the leaders began to look at each other to weed out any weak components. It was Schachmann who made the move, Linderman chasing and leaving van Garderen and Amador to grind on as a pair.
Schachmann – however committed – had a job ahead of him with 10.7km left and a gap of 50 seconds.
Come 7.1km, his advantage stood at 39 seconds, but the German had the advantage of loneliness – entering the roundabouts at full lean whilst the bunch lost seconds as Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) slid out and hit the deck.
Come 3.9km to go, Schachmann’s lead had suffered no real dent, now at 36 seconds, as this former accomplices drifted into the peloton.
The line agonisingly close, with 3km to go Schachmann lost valuable seconds on a gradual rise – haemorrhaging more of his delicate advantage to a nail biting 20 seconds at 1.9km.
However, the gap remained identical under the flamme rouge – and in the final 500 metres, it was clear even a supernatural effort from behind wouldn’t stop him from being the first over the line.
Behind, Matthews had the strongest kick over the line to take second, Gibbons netting the final step on the podium.
Volta a Catalunya 2019, stage five results: Puigcerdà to Sant Cugat Del Vallès (188km)
1 Maximilian Schachmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 4-25-45
2 Michael Matthews (Aus) Team Sunweb, at 13s
3 Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension Data
4 Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
5 Patrick Bevin (NZl) CCC Team
6 Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-Merida, at same time
7 Jay McCarthy (Aus) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 15s
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
9 Bjorg Lambrecht (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
10 Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Pro Team, all at at same time
Volta a Catalunya general classification after stage five
1 Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Pro Team, in 21-57-05
2 Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 14s
3 Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, at 17s
4 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, at 25s
5 Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, at 46s
6 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 56s
7 Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First, at 1-42
8 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1-44
9 Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2-27
10 Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar Team, at 2-36