Simon Clarke triumphs
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Six years on from claiming the biggest win of his career in a breakaway at the 2012 Vuelta a España, Simon Clarke (EF Education First – Drapac) today added a second triumph at the Spanish Grand Tour.
The Australian has had his moments in the intervening years, most notably winning the Herald Sun Tour in 2014 and spending a day in the maglia rosa during the 2015 Giro d’Italia, but his form had waned recently.
Today he looked back to his best, however, proving himself to be among the strongest three riders in the day’s breakaway (along with BMC’s Alessandro de Marchi and Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema), and possessing the kick to come out on top in the sprint.
And just as Ben King ended a long draught for Dimension Data yesterday, this was a long-awaited result for EF Education First-Drapac, who had until now endured a disappointing season constituting a meagre tally of just four wins.
With Pierre Rolland getting into breaks and Rigoberto Uran still in GC contention, the team could build upon Clarke’s win today and seek yet more success.
Rudy Molard is the new race leader
Team Sky revealed their disinterest in defending Michal Kwiatkowski’s red jersey yesterday by opting not to ride in pursuit of the break, but whereas they ended up keeping the jersey that day when other teams upped the pace in the peloton, no such chase was formed in today’s stage.
The result is that Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) becomes the race’s new overall leader. The Frenchman was the best-placed rider of the day’s 25-man break, and rode hard to ensure he gained the 3-46 needed, helping to form a three-man group along with Davide Villella (Astana) and Floris De Tier (LottoNL-Jumbo) on the day’s final climb in pursuit of the leading trio, and continuing to take long turns even as he appeared to be suffering from cramp.
The results follows a first ever WorldTour-ranked win for Molard at Paris-Nice in the spring, extending what is surely the best season in the 28-year old’s career.
Groupama-FDJ now have the obligation to control the race for as long as Molard holds red.
Although the team too harbours GC hopes through Thibaut Pinot, we can expect a team with such a relatively small budget to relish the chance more than BMC and Sky before them.
Stalemate in the GC
As far as the race for overall victory goes, stage five was a day-long truce among the overall favourites.
Team Sky set a modest tempo up the day’s biggest climb – the category two Alto El Marchal – with no attacks being made, and no other teams taking over at the front like LottoNL-Jumbo did yesterday.
Although the Alto El Marchal is a pretty tough climb, at least certainly in terms of length (nearly 11km), the fact it was crested 26km from the finish was clearly enough to put off all the GC riders.
With so many summit finishes to come, the contenders will perhaps be selective with which days to save their energy for – and a stage with just two categorised climbs and 26km of descending and flat to the finish was apparently not worth the effort.
De Marchi and Mollema out on the attack
Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) is a rider who has in the past built a reputation for long-range attacks, having previously won two stages of the Vuelta with solo moves in 2014 and 2015, as well as the combativity award at the 2014 Tour de France for his continuous efforts.
Given his reputation, and the form he showed in finishing a surprise sixth in the opening time trial on Saturday, it was no surprise to see him animate today’s break. With around 90km left to ride he attacked the group with Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis), then struck out alone 65km out, before being joined by Clarke and Mollema with 45km left to ride.
Mollema was also in aggressive mood, and might have been able to drop De Marchi and Clarke on the climb had he not punctured and been forced to use up energy chasing back on.
Given how impressive he looked today despite losing such a heap of time on stage four it seems likely that Mollema held back yesterday with the intention of refocusing on stage wins rather than GC.
These two riders could be among the race’s most lively and, with two-and-a-half weeks left of racing left, look like good bets to eventually seal stage wins.
A breakaway succeeds again
It’s still only the first week, but already there was a huge scrap to get into the break of the day.
It took over an hour for a 25-man break to eventually form that everyone was happy with. Such a long battle so early in the race is somewhat unusual, as was the size of the group, which also ensured that it was always likely to survive.
With the break also succeeding yesterday, a pattern may be establishing at this Vuelta. With so few pure sprinter stages and so many hills and undulating terrain, teams may decide that their best chance of landing a win would be to place riders in breakaways rather than chase in the hope of a bunch finish.
Tomorrow’s flatter stage may challenge the pattern, but expect to see another substantial number of riders eager to get into the day’s break.