Volta a Catalunya / E3 Harelbeke
Quintana still leads GC by 7". Contador (TNK) gains 1" at Int. Sprint 1. After hectic racing towards Valls, Poels (SKY) takes stage win at average 47kph
In today's fifth stage of the Volta a Catalunya, a speeding peloton covered the 187 km from Rialp to Valls in less than four hours. No quarter was given in the struggle to form the breakaway of the day, which took 110 kilometres, a second-category climb (Àger) and literally dozens of attacks, not to mention the passage through the first intermediate sprint, where Contador (TNK) clawed back one of the 8" that separated him from Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team).
Nairo enjoyed constant protection by Erviti, Anacona, Soler, Moreno, Dayer and José Herrada, always to the fore in the first phase of racing and, in Erviti's case, monitoring what became the escape group, which included Verona (EQS) – at just over 3' in GC – and the eventual solo attacker Poels (SKY), who ended the day with the stage win.
The peloton of the race leader, Nairo Quintana, arrived intact at 33", meaning that, 48 hours before the race finish on Montjuïc, just 21” separate the top four contenders. Before then the peloton faces a long (197 km) and sinuous sixth stage, with a less lumpy final stretch towards Vilanova i la Geltrú, the hometown of Marc Soler, who shone in the corresponding, penultimate stage a year ago, when he joined the breakaway to Port Aventura before taking 4th place in the stage.
Nairo Quintana: "Today was probably the hardest stage before Montjuïc, because the finish was complicated and the rhythm, which was frantic all day, made it even harder to control the race. I expected Contador to try to make up time. You can't let him out of your sight for a moment, and we saw that at the intermediate sprint. Contador and the other pretenders are not going to make it easy for us to win this Volta, although fortunately the time he gained was not enough to take the lead.
"In the final part of the stage, the breakaway made us work, but other teams were thinking of a sprint finish and they worked hard at the front, which made it easier for us. The team worked well in the moments of difficulty, and we fought our way through this first day in the jersey. As for tomorrow, I hope that the high speed and difficulty of the last three days will mean that there is lots of fatigue in the bunch, meaning that it is easier for us to control the race."
E3 Harelbeke: Ventoso 18th in Belgium
Over in the land of cobblestones, the team could at last field a full line-up at Friday's E3 Harelbeke (206km), which ended with a win for ex-World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski (SKY) over current rainbow jersey holder Peter Sagan (TNK). The duo escaped despite strength in numbers from Etixx-Quick Step, who eventually attained no top-10 places.
Following a fruitless attempt in the early break by Jasha Sütterlin, the Blues – who featured a number of pavé debutants in Arcas, Pedrero and Betancur – figured only in the main field. Fran Ventoso, third into that group's sprint, took 18th spot, with Andrey Amador 36th. Nelson Oliveira and Juanjo Lobato also finished inside the time limit.
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport / Luis Ángel Gómez