Here's what got us talking on stage five of the Vuelta a España
Ewan has hit the big time
But now, with a win in his debut Grand Tour, Ewan has secured his place among the best sprinters in the peloton. To be the best you’ve got to beat the best and Ewan beat two of the best riders in professional cycling to win the stage.
Peter Sagan and John Degenkolb couldn’t match the pocket rocket’s pace on the slight uphill, but arrow-straight finish, with Ewan hitting the front with around 200m to go and staying there to the end.
Teammate Mitch Docker told Eurosport that this was the second and last stage that suited Ewan in the race, so hopefully he won’t give up any time soon and we can see him attempting a few more sprints, even if they’re not to his liking.
Degenkolb falls short again
Another second place for John Degenkolb, taking his tally to 20 in the last two seasons, but again it seemed like the Giant-Alpecin man missed a great opportunity to take the win.
His leadout was pretty decent, with one man still left after the final turn onto the finish straight, but having Ewan on his wheel probably wasn’t the position he wanted to be in.
Degenkolb was forced to make the first move, which Ewan said was made at the right time, but the German’s top-end speed was no match for the Australian’s.
Still, Degenkolb placed second on the stage, but with Sagan in third he didn’t make up much ground on the Slovak in the green jersey competition, with the Tinkoff-Saxo rider a full 25 points clear at the top of that classification.
Dumoulin surprised to take the race lead
While Giant-Alpecin would have been disappointed not to take the stage win, they are likely more than happy to see Tom Dumoulin move into the race leader’s jersey – even though they didn’t initially realise it.
Dumoulin says he was trundling back to his team bus, sipping on a recovery drink when he was told that he was the new leader, meaning he had to turn round and ride back to the podium, holding up proceedings for a few minutes.
It’s not the leader’s jersey that Dumoulin wanted this year – with the Dutchman hoping to take yellow in his homeland at the Tour de France and eventually crashing out on stage three with a broken collarbone.
But it’s a huge achievement nonetheless, with the all-rounder showing at the Tour de Suisse earlier in the year that he can keep up with the climbers in the mountains, meaning he could keep hold of the jersey for a while.
Even if he relinquishes it in the high mountains in the coming weeks, he may be able to stay in contention and take it back with a dominant performance in the long time trial after the second rest day.
The final week is pretty easy, compared to usual Grand Tour finales, so a strong performance in the time trial could see Dumoulin finishing high in the general classification.
Did Sagan waste a great opportunity?
In the last three stages, Sagan has finished first, second and third, but today’s finish will perhaps be the most disappointing of the last two for the Slovak.
He insisted afterwards that he wasn’t really targeting the stage yet his team did a lot of work in the final kilometres to get him in contention. Indeed, Sagan and a teammate led the peloton around the final corner with about 650m to go but couldn’t take advantage of that favourable position.
There’s plenty more stages for Sagan to target in this race, but with many of them coming in the final week – and with Sagan possibly likely to pull out early to concentrate on the World Championships – he may not have as many chances to win.
Finally a reasonably straight-forward sprint stage
A common gripe among riders is that Grand Tour stages are just becoming too hard. It’s all well and good throwing in a stage with four massive mountain passes in week two, but when it’s surrounded by equally hard stages it all becomes a bit too much.
Traditionally the first week of a Grand Tour is for the sprinters, with maybe a few challenges to keep the GC guys on their toes, but recently that blueprint has gone out of the window.
This year’s Tour opening week was probably the hardest – mentally and physically – the race has seen in the modern era and so far at the Vuelta we’ve had a crazy team time trial (which was neutralised), a pseudo-summit finish on stage two, a sprint stage with a first-category mountain in the middle and a lump at the end on stage three and then a crazily steep finish to stage four.
Two of the three real stages have not suited the sprinters in the slightest, despite looking relatively sedate on the route map and even the sprint on stage three wasn’t exactly straight forward.
So it was nice to see the organisers being a little kinder to riders on stage five with barely a lump in sight. The finish straight was slightly uphill, but that didn’t worry Ewan or the other sprinters.
They can’t get used to it, though, with that being pretty much the only flat stage between now and Madrid in two weeks time.