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Winner of a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country in both of the past two seasons, Jens Voigt was clearly the man to watch when he infiltrated a break soon after the start of stage five of the Tour of the Basque Country, or at least that was the plan employed by the rider who made the break, Bouygues Telecom's Thomas Voeckler.
As well as this pair, the 10-rider group included Britain's Charly Wegelius (Liquigas). The highest placed rider in the group was Milram's Andriy Grivko, 36th at the start of the day, almost four minutes down on Samuel Sanchez. With none of the 10 apparently a threat, they were allowed to build a lead of more than six minutes as they crossed a first-category climb on their way north towards Zalla, with another five third-cats on route.
Eventually, Sanchez's Euskaltel team began to coordinate a chase, with Grivko now the leader on the road, but three days of working for Sanchez on unrelenting terrain had taken its toll. Passing through the finish at Zalla with 25km left, Grivko was still the leader on the road and Sanchez's assistants were flagging.
Up ahead, Voigt inadvertently helped the race leader with an attack towards the summit of the penultimate climb that saw Grivko and six others fall away, leaving him with just Voeckler and Saunier Duval's Juan Jos Cobo for company. There was no doubting Voigt's appetite for hard work, but the other two didn't look so keen, especially Cobo, who attracted frequent angry gestures from both of them.
On the final hill, Voigt repeated his previous tactic and this time saw off the obviously tiring Cobo. Voeckler worked with him until the last 500 metres, then sat stubbornly on the German's wheel. The CSC rider led out the sprint from the front with 200 metres left, but Voeckler responded and came through at the line to win by half a wheel. Voigt threw out his left leg at the Frenchman as they also collided, although it was hard to make out whether it was in frustration or just to maintain his balance.
Sanchez, meanwhile, was responding to attacks against his lead, notably from Jos Angel Gomez Marchante. The Euskaltel rider looked comfortable, and much more so than his team-mates who, with the exception of Iban Mayo, disappeared on the final climb. In the end, Sanchez's group came in with a minute's advantage on time trial specialist Grivko, who would certainly have been a contender for the title if he could have followed Voigt.
The race now depends on Saturday's 24km time trial in Zalla, where Sanchez will be able to count on local knowledge and support, while Alberto Contador will have time trial technique and victory in the last year's closing stage of the race to bolster him. Both, though, will be wise to follow the progress of fifth-placed Cadel Evans, who might fancy his chances as well.
Stage 5, Vitoria-Zalla
1 Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Bouygues Telecom 178km in 4.18.42 (41.28kph)
2 Jens Voigt (Ger) CSC
3 Juan Jos Cobo (Spa) Saunier Duval 0.12
4 Gustavo Cesar (Spa) Kaiku 0.34
5 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Crdit Agricole
6 Charly Wegelius (GB) Liquigas
7 Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Milram 0.36
8 Benot Poilvet (Fra) Crdit Agricole 2.11
9 Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Lampre 2.31
10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
17 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel
1 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 19.58.54
2 Alberto Contador (Spa) Liberty Seguros
3 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner 0.02
4 Leonardo Bertagnolli (Ita) Cofidis
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
6 Miguel A. M. Perdiguero (Spa) Phonak 0.08
7 Antonio Colom (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Jos Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval 0.09
9 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.10
10 Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger) T-Mobile
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