Nicolas Roche has lost his race lead in the Vuelta a España, handing the red jersey back to Miguel Ángel López after a revealing stage five.
The first mountain test of the race, stage honours went to Ángel Madrazo (Burgos-BH) after a remarkable display that saw him dropped early on the climb, only to come back in the final kilometre and steal victory from the grasp of his team-mate Jetse Bol and José Herrada (Cofidis).
As the battle for the stage played out atop the Alto de Javalambre, Miguel Ángel López launched a long-range attack in the middle section of the 11km climb, riding away from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to take back the race lead he held after stage one.
Former race leader Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) was unable to follow an earlier attack from Valverde and battled valiantly but was forced to concede defeat.
How it happened
Stage five of the Vuelta a España 2019 was the first of the anticipated GC days after the unexpected explosion on stage two.
The route covered 170.7km from L’Eliana just outside of Valencia and finished at the observatory atop the first real mountain of the race, Alto de Javalambre, which has never appeared in the race before.
Climbing kicked off almost immediately on the road, starting with the second category Puerto de Alcublas (5.9km at 4.7 per cent), which topped out 32km into the day.
A rolling middle section then ensued, covering 60km with no categorised ascents before the next test – the third category Alto Fuente de Rubielos (4.8km at 5.7 per cent), which crested 98km from the start.
Another long lumpy section followed over the next 60km, with the peloton constantly gaining altitude, leading into the final climb and the most daunting challenge of the race so far.
The peak of Alto de Javalambre sits 1,950 metres above sea level, with riders facing an 11.1km ascent averaging 7.8 per cent to get there.
Race leader Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) was not hopeful to hold the red jersey by the summit, with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) just two seconds behind, while others in the peloton were unsure if the stage would go to the breakaway or if it would be a fight purely for the GC riders.
The stage started with a tough fight as riders tried to form a breakaway, with no riders escaping in the opening 10km.
Finally two Burgos-BH riders, Jetse Bol and Ángel Madrazo, were allowed free with Jośe Herrada (Cofidis) chasing and bridging across.
Sunweb controlled the pace early in the day as the breakaway trio’s advantage increased steadily throughout the day.
The escapees pulled out a 10-minute gap 45km into the stage, the peloton clearly unconcerned about their prospects deeper into the race.
Herrada was the best-placed of the breakaway riders on general classification at the start of the day, 5-20 down on Roche, which put him into the virtual race lead with 60km to race, the gap still just above 10 minutes.
Sunweb continued to control the race as the riders looked to the pivotal final section, but with 30km left to race it looked like the peloton was content to let the tree breakaway riders fight for the stage, the gap still above 10 minutes as the final climb approached.
The break hit the foot of the climb with just under 10 minutes and the gap started to tumble as the peloton ramped up the power in anticipation of the ascent, with Sunweb and Ineos leading the charge.
Hitting the climb seven minutes down, Ineos continued to lead the bunch.
Up the road, Madrazo was the first to feel the bite on the climb, struggling with 7.3km to race, but admirably fighting to hold on before he was dropped 4km from the summit.
Madrazo remained a shadow behind Herrada and Bol, which allowed the latter to shirk any pulls with his team-mate just behind.
Into the final kilometre and Madrazo rejoined the front pair and hit the front for Bol in a tactical masterclass from Burgos-BH, but he then kicked on with a remarkable injection of power and pulled clear, riding to a convincing victory ahead of Bol with Herrada taking third, despite having been the favourite amongst the break.
Back in the peloton five minutes down the mountain, there was a slow thinning of the bunch as Astana and Jumbo-Visma held the front, with Roche looking comfortable near the head.
More bad news for Ineos as their last remaining GC hope, David de la Cruz was dropped from the peloton, as Hugh Carthy hit the front for EF Education to split the race again after his stand-out performance on day two.
World champion Valverde launched a dangerous attack and split the remaining climbers, Primož Roglič, Miguel Ángel López staying with him, as Roche started to struggle.
López was next to hit out as Valverde and Roglič pursued, with Esteban Chaves, Nairo Quintana part of the next small group on the road.
But López looked comfortable on the higher slopes, finishing 47 seconds behind Madrazo, more importantly 12 seconds ahead of Valverde and Roglič and almost a minute up on Quintana.
The general classification is now led by López who is 14 seconds up on Roglič, with Quintana now third at 23 seconds. Valverde is fourth 28 seconds back on the red jersey.
Racing continues at the Vuelta a España 2019 on stage six with another summit showdown, over 198.9km from Mora de Rubielos to Ares del Maestrat.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage five: L'Eliana to Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre (170.7km)
1. Ángel Madrazo (Esp) Burgos-BH, in 4-58-31
2. Jetse Bol (Ned) Burgos-BH, at 10 seconds
3. José Herrada (Esp) Cofidis, Cofidis, at 22s
4. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 47s
5. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 59s
6. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
7. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-29
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 1-41
9. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, at same time
10. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-46
General classification after stage five
1. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, in 18-55-21
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 14s
3. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 23s
4. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 28s
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Sunweb, at 57s
6. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education First, at 59s
7. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, at 1-17
9. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-18
10. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-49
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