This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) won stage 5 of the Vuelta a Epaña with a blistering turn of speed in Logroño. The German picked up his second grand tour stage of the week – and his career – with Daniele Bennati (Radioshack-Nissan) second and Gianni Meersman (Lotto Belisol Team) third.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) finished safely in the bunch to retain his one-second lead over Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Despite Degenklob’s unmatchable speed, Argos had a difficult time controlling the peloton but they timed their lead-out to perfection. And when Bennati launched an early sprint and looked to be heading for the win, Degenkolb closed the gap himself before coming around the Italian’s left-hand side.
The 168-kilometre stage was a deviation from the Vuelta’s recent blueprint of hilltop finishes and provided a rare chance for the sprinters to shine. Eight laps of a 21-kilometre circuit, it resembled a downtown criterium at times, with only lone escapee Javier Chacon (Andalucia) showing any sign of intent. His attack inside the first kilometre saw the 27-year-old Spaniard build up a lead close to 12 minutes after just 40 kilometres of racing.
With Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank) and his rivals taking a day off, the bunch cruised through the opening laps. Argos-Shimano and Rodriguez’s Katusha team tapped through at a moderate tempo before Chacon finally began to wilt in the Spanish heat.
FDJ-BigMat joined the stop-start pace setting but with 38 kilometres remaining the gap had dwindled to two minutes. By now Chacon was stuffing ice into his jersey but when he missed a bottle through the feedzone his day was almost over. After losing 30 seconds in two kilometres, he was finally reeled in with 29 kilometres remaining.
The capture saw a surge from teams consisting of GC contenders and sprinters, all aware that the increased pace would leave them in a weakened position at the back of the peloton. Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, Garmin-Sharp, Sky and Liquigas-Cannondale attempted to assert authority but with over 20 kilometres to go there was a general reluctance to control the entire peloton. This was a day off, after all.
With one lap remaining Quick Step, with Tony Martin marshalling their troops, lit the touch paper for a possible Gert Steegmans sprint. Argos, who had set tempo throughout the early stages of the race, were still waiting in the wings and it was Euskaltel who, presumably hoping to keep Anton out of trouble, gave QuickStep some assistance.
Liquigas and Rabobank were next, with Flecha beckoning his Sky teammates to do the same. With 8 kilometre,s remaining Lotto and BMC had stretched the field out but control for any squad proved short-lived. GreenEdge and FDJ joined the scramble at the head of the field, the relative easy profile of the stage providing the majority of the fast men peloton with the confidence to compete for the win.
Steegmans had meanwhile latched onto Argos’s sprint train, while Froome helped Ben Swift cut through the peloton. Argos’s patience appeared to be threatened when RadioShack wound the pace up with 2 kilometres to go. However, despite Hayden Roulston’s efforts, Bennati was alone and unprotected when Degenklob’s final leadout man hit the front. Meersman was briefly blocked as Raymond Kreder and Elia Viviani Liquigas-Cannondale fought for position. But despite the frantic run-in, the sprint was relatively clear cut. Bennati’s early surge created a visible gap and only Degenklob could latch himself onto the Italian’s wheel before taking the win by half a wheel.