Vuelta al País Vasco (st. 5)
Movistar Team leader takes 2nd in Markina after offensive attitude in San Miguel climb, will start TT showdown 12″ behind Contador (TCS); splendid teamwork crucial again
Alejandro Valverde and the Movistar Team threw themselves again into turning the 2014 Vuelta al País Vasco on their favour, the race coming into its showdown tomorrow with 14 riders in one minute’s gap. The telephone squad went offensive in the finale of stage five -160km between Eibar and Markina-Xemein-, which included four climbs in barely sixty kilometers. The work by Herrada, Intxausti or the Izagirre brothers kept the pace high and dropped elements one by one, controlling all attacks including a 16-man group where Rubén Plaza stayed vigilant to contain any dangerous moves.
At the final ascent, San Miguel (Cat-2), Valverde made his gamble with a strong attack which was only followed by Contador (TCS), always on his wheel, and Poels (OPQ), who bridged the gap to the duo under the KOM banner. The skilled descent by the Blue leader kept hopes alive into the first group, but the strong headwind into the final straights provoked the junction and took the finish to a sprint, where Alejandro was beaten by the only sprinter remaining: Ben Swift (SKY).
The climbs of Gontzaga and Santa Eufemia, already tackled on today’s stage, will decide the Itzulia over a 25.9km individual time trial. Valverde, still in the lead of the points ranking, will get to the start ramp with a 12-second deficit on Contador. Cunego (LAM), Evans (BMC), Péraud (ALM) and Trofimov (KAT) are 24 seconds behind him, with Kwiatkowski (OPQ) 29″ back.
REACTION / Alejandro Valverde (brief): “There’s the two of us, Alberto and myself, fighting close to each other for the overall classification, with many others not far behind, and we have to take chances in every possible place. I tried to attack in San Miguel, we went away, but it was difficult – there was much headwind and they caught us into the final 2k of flat. It’s true that the contest looks more inclined towards the two of us, but still riders like Kwiatkowski or Evans can make it difficult for us, and tomorrow’s TT is a head one. Should the wind blow like today, it will be a head one in the beginning. The first climb is not so hard, but the second is rather demanding. The TT ends at the top of it, because the last descent is mainly a few straigths and it won’t make any difference – we could say it’s a 20km ride. The team was sensational – hats off to them, from the first day to the last one, they were always there and I can’t thank them enough. Let’s hope we can round off this with a victory tomorrow – we know it will be hard, but if I do, I’ll dedicate it to them.”