Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) won on the summit finish of stage five of the Vuelta a España after attacking from the day’s breakaway.
Kazakhstan rider Lutsenko won the day after leaving behind his breakaway companion Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) on the steep slopes of the final climb after the pair had escaped from a larger breakaway group.
Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data) finished second after he’d pursued the front pair with Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), but was unable to catch Lutsenko on the final 3.4km climb which averaged 10 per cent and reached up to 20 per cent in gradient.
Over four minutes behind, Sky led the peloton onto the climb with Gianni Moscon putting in a huge turn to set things up for Froome.
Once he’d pulled off, Froome accelerated and only a select group of riders could follow, including Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) and a seemingly rejuvenated Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) who led the four across the line.
Vincenzo Nibali, one of the main favourites for overall victory, lost 26 seconds on the climb and now sits in sixth place on GC at 36 seconds. Fabio Aru lost 11 seconds, while Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) lost 49 seconds, which will come as a blow to any GC aspirations he might have.
How it happened
The day’s route, with five climbs dotted throughout, looked ideal for a breakaway and so a big group managed to get away from the peloton.
Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step Floors), Rubén Fernandez and Marc Soler (Movistar Team), Michael Schwarzmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac), Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin), Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Valerio Agnoli (Bahrain-Merida), Jérémy Maison (FDJ), Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Lluis Mas and Hector Saez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Michel Kreder (Aqua Blue Sport) and Jetse Bol (Manzana-Postobón) all got away early on but didn’t put much of a gap into the main bunch.
The break sat at around 3-30 for much of the day, with the peloton keeping them within arm’s reach over the opening climbs of the route.
On the final category two climb before the summit finish things began to improve for the break, with gap gradually creeping up with several accelerations within the break.
As they crested the climb and descended, the gap continued to grow and was up to five minutes as Marco Haller went clear with 42km to go.
He wasn’t immediately chased down and got a gap of 12 seconds, with Mohoric and Lutsenko in pursuit.
They eventually caught Haller and the three worked together before Mohoric began to suffer and was dropped.
Lutsenko then did the bulk of the work on the front as the remaining breakaway riders behind began to attack each other in pursuit.
They had a comfortably growing gap of 6-00 with 25km to go and Haller and Alexey Lutsenko were clear with 54 seconds on the chasers.
Alaphilippe pushed on at 23km to go with riders counter attacking which brought gap to 32 seconds, and eventually two pursuers of Kudus and Alexis Gougeard were able to form a proper chase for the leading pair.
The gap held though, and with 6km to go it didn’t look like Gougeard and Kudus would be able to catch them before the final climb, with Haller and Lutsenko eventually reaching the foot of the climb with 30 seconds.
Lutsenko immediately dropped Haller and began to find his rhythm, while Kudus did the same to Gougeard.
The Eritrean looked good as he began his chase, but faded towards the top of the climb as Lutsenko was able to hold his power to the flatter slopes of the summit, and took the biggest victory of his career.
Behind the, the peloton remained in a fairly calm state until the climb, where Froome was able to do some damage, but was unable to shake Chaves, who is looking to be his toughest rival at the race.
The Vuelta a España continues with another mountain day on Thursday; a 204.4km route from Vila-Real to Segunt.
Vuelta a España stage five: Benicassim – Ermita Santa Lucía (175.5km)
1 Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana Pro Team 4-24-58
2 Merhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data, at 42s
3 Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar Team, at 56s
4 Matej Mohoric (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-11
5 Alexis Gougeard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1-24
6 Marco Haller (Aut) Katusha-Alpecin, at 1-37
7 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-40
8 Jetse Bol (Ned) Manzana Postobon, at 2-04
9 Matvey Mamykin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin, at 2-18
10 Jérémy Maison (Fra) FDJ, at 2-31
General Classification after stage five
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 18-07-10
2 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team, at 10s
3 Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott, at 11s
4 Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing Team, at 13s
5 David De La Cruz (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 23s
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 36s
7 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team, at 49s
8 Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 50s
9 Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 1-09
10 Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac, at 1-13