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Emerging as the strongest from a 9-rider breakaway, Van Avermaet soloed to the victory and his first yellow jersey on stage 5 of the Tour de France; De Gendt and Majka completed the podium and Contador and Nibali lost time

Photo: RCS Sport - ANSA / PERI - ZENNARO

GREG VAN AVERMAET

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NEWS

RAFAL MAJKA

RIDER PROFILE
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NEWS

THOMAS DE GENDT

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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NEWS
06.07.2016 @ 17:51 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Three days after his big disappointment in stage 2 Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) took the biggest win of his career when he completed a marvelous solo ride in spectacular fashion on the hilly fifth stage of the Tour de France. The Belgian emerged as the strongest from a 9-rider breakaway and dropped Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) on the final climb before soloing across to the line to take not on the stage victory but also the first yellow jersey of his career. Movistar put the favourites under pressure and that cost Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) a time loss of another 33 seconds and made Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) crack completely.

 

Going into the Tour de France, Greg Van Avermaet had one big goal: to win the second stage and possibly take the yellow jersey. However, the Belgian was boxed in during the sprint and couldn’t hide his huge disappointment, believing that he had missed one of the biggest chances to get the coveted tunic.

 

Van Avermaet put the disappointment behind him and set his sights on today’s first hilly stage in the Massif Central. Knowing that he would be unable to keep up with the favourites, he went on the attack in an aggressive early phase and when nine riders went clear, he was part of the action.

 

Being up against climbers like Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Van Avermaet knew that he had to anticipate. Together with Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Andriy Grivko (Astana), he took off at the midpoint and finally he dropped his two companions on the hardest climbs before soloing to the biggest win of his career. As he arrived with an advantage of more than five minutes to the peloton, he also took the yellow jersey.

 

In the peloton, it was the Movistar team that took the race on, creating a huge selection on the two hardest climbs. That was too much for race leader Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and riders like Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) also dropped completely out of GC contention.

 

In the finale, Romain Bardet (Ag2r) tried to test the rivals and that was costly for Alberto Contador who lost another 33 seconds. For the rest of the favourites, it ended as a bit of a ceasefire as only Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) managed to steal three second in the uphill sprint.

 

After an aggressive start, Grivko, De Gendt, Majka, Van Avermaet, Pauwels, Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18), Florian Vachon (Fortuneo Vital Concept) and Cyril Gautier (Ag2r) had escaped and as no one took any initiative, they built an advantage of more than 15 minutes. Van Avermaet, Grivko and De Gendt took off and the front trio hit the hardest climb, Pay de Peyrol with an advantage of 11 minutes over the peloton and 3.30 over the chasers. The climbing clearly took its toll, especially when they hit the steep section, and they started to lose ground to the chasers.

 

In the steepest section with 32km to go, Grivko had to surrender and left it to Van Avermaet and De Gendt to press on. Sicard and Vachon were dropped from the chase group which was now only 3 minutes behind.

 

As soon as they hit the climb, the peloton exploded to pieces under the pressure from Winner Anacona and Nelson Oliveira from Movistar. Laporte, Gerrans, Albasini, Vanmarcke, Martens, Boasson Hagen, Teklehaimanot, Cancellara, Pineau, Cummings and Stuyven were among the first to lose contact but the big surprise came when Tony Gallopin was distanced as part of a big group that also included the likes of Degenkolb and Chavanel. Moments, later Daniel Navarro was also distanced and Arnold Jeannesson, Thomas Voeckler and Tom Dumoulin lost contact too.

 

While De Gendt won the KOM sprint, Jesus Herrada took over the pace-setting as they hit the steep section and he did a huge damage. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) had to surrender but the first big names to get dropped were Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Mikel Landa (Sky).

 

Ion Izagirre was the next rider in the Movistar train and he whittled the group down to less than 25 riders, sending Alexis Vuillermoz, Tom-Jelte Slagter and Wout Poels out the back door. Thibaut Pinot, Mathias Frank, Julian Alaphilippe and Adam Yates were clearly suffering at the back of the group

 

Majka accelerated over the top of the climb and briefly got a small advantage but the four chasers regrouped on the descent. Further back, Daniel Moreno took over from Izagirre and led the peloton to the top 6.55 behind the leaders.

 

De Gendt and Van Avermaet hit the penultimate climb with advantages of 3.00 and 6.55 respectively while Moreno guided the peloton down the descent. Three kilometres from the top, Van Avermaet made a strong attack that De Gendt couldn’t match and the BMC rider soloed towards the top. Majka and Huzarski dropped Pauwels and Gautier.

 

Moreno did more damage on the lower slopes of the climb, clearly putting Alaphilippe in difficulty. However, the Frenchman got new life when Moreno cracked and Mikel Nieve hit the front for Sky as the British team slowed the group down. Nonetheless, he brought Sicard and Vachon back.

 

Van Avermaet reached the top with an advantage of six minutes and then powered down the descent, extending his advantage over De Gendt to 1.15 with 10km to go. Meanwhile, Nieve led the peloton over the top of the climb. At this point, only Nieve, Froome, Thomas, Henao, Quintana, Moreno, Valverde, Aru, Contador, Kreuziger, Bardet, Kelderman, Mollema, Frank, Rolland, Caruso, Porte, van Garderen, Barguil, Pinot, Reichenbach, Van den Broeck, Rodriguez, Meintjes, Dan Martin, Alaphilippe and Yates had survived.

 

Pauwels and Gautier crashed on the descent where Nieve took it easy for the Sky team, allowing Van Avermaet to increase his advantage from 5.30 to 6.00 before he hit the final climb. He dug deep to maintain that gap all the way to the top where he won the KOM sprint and so took the lead in the mountains competition. De Gendt crested the summit 2.15 later.

 

Van Avermaet took no risks on the descent and then sprinted up the final ramp before he celebrated the biggest win of his career. A disappointed De Gendt rolled to the finish around 2.30 later.

 

It looked like it would be ceasefire between the favourites as Nieve just maintained a steady pace, bringing Gautier back, but Romain Bardet (Ag2r) wanted it differently. The Frenchman attacked close to the top and initially only Quintana, Valverde and Pinot could follow. They blasted past Pauwels while Henao led the chase but the Colombian constantly had to look back to check where Froome was.

 

Rodriguez bridged the gap and Henao finally brought the group back together just before the top. However, Contador had been distanced and he continued to lose time he battled his way to the top.

 

Valverde led the peloton down the descent, trying to increase the advantage over Contador and bringing Grivko back, before they hit the final ramp. Here Rodriguez launched one of his trademark attacks, passing a fading Huzarski and bridging the gap to Majka just before the line. Dan Martin gave chase and led the peloton across the line three seconds later, followed by Huzarski and Alaphilippe. Contador lost 33 seconds while Nibali arrived in a bigger group, with a loss of more than 8 minutes to the rest of the favourites.

 

With the win, Van Avermaet took over the yellow jersey with an advantage of 5.11 over Alaphilippe while Valverde is now 2 seconds further adrift in third. He should have a relatively easy first day in the yellow jersey as stage 6 should be another one for the sprinters. The start is hilly with two smaller climbs but in the second half, there’s just one category 3 climb before the riders get to the completely flat final 40km.

 

The first hilly stage

After two sprint stages, it was finally time for some serious climbing in stage 5 which brought the riders over 216 from Limoges to Le Lioran in the hilly Massif Central. The first half was almost completely flat as it only included one category 4 climb but then things got difficult with 80km to go where the peloton hit the first of two category 3 climbs. Then the riders tackled the difficult category 2 climbs of Pas de Peyrol and Col du Perthus in quick succession. The later summited with 14.5km to go and was followed by a difficult descent and the category 3 climb of Col de Font de Cere (3.3km, 5.8%). The final 2.5km consisted of a slightly descending section and a 500m ramp of 6% in the end.

 

The 198 riders were all there when the peloton rolled out for the tough 216km under a sunny sky. As soon as the real start was given, a Fortuneo-Vital Concept rider attacked, and it set the scenne for an eventful start. There were several attempts but no one could get a significant gap before a Fortuneo and a Cofidis rider got clear after 9km of racing. A Dimension Data rider joined them but they were caught before the peloton hit the first climb.

 

Nine riders get clear

While Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) had a mechanical, the attacking continued on the ascent where a Lampre rider tried to get clear. However, he was caught before the top where Jasper Stuyven (Trek) increased his lead in the mountains competition by winning the sprint. Sam Bennett (Boa-Argon 18) who crashed on the first stage, was dropped, but together with Navarro, he rejoined the group on the descent.

 

The many attacks continued until seven riders escaped. While they built a gap of 12 seconds, nine riders tried to bridge the gap, but only two riders succeeded. Hence, 9 riders had gathered in front and it was mainly Andriy Grivko (Astana) who was a driving force in maintaining the advantage. He was joined by Rafal Majka (Tinkoff), Cyril Gautier (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Bartosz Huzarski (Bora - Argon 18), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) , Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) and Florian Vachon (Fortuneo-Vital Concept), and the nine rides were last allowed to ride away.

 

The break splits up

After 30km of racing, the group was 2.10 ahead of the peloton and it went out to five minutes before Team Sky hit the front with Luke Rowe. However, he was not chasing, and so the lead had reached six minutes after the first hour during which 44.4 kilometers were covered.

 

Sky continued to set the pace and stabilized the gap at around 6.30 during the second hour where the average speed was only 36.2km/h. As they approached the feed zone with more than 110km to go, Van Avermaet, Grivko and De Gendt made a surprise attack and they quickly managed to put 30 seconds into their former companions. When they refueled, they had put a massive 8.15 into the peloton which was still led by Sky and the chasers continued to lose ground too.

 

The gap grows massively

Entering the final 100km, the front trio had an advantage of 1.10 over their former companions while the peloton had been distanced by a massive 11 minutes. Ian Stannard had taken over from Luke Rowe but Sky did not get any help at all.

 

Rowe went back to work but as they weren’t chasing, the gap went out to a massive 12 minutes with 85km to go. The front group was working excellently together and the chasers couldn’t match them either. Despite a solid cooperation, they were almost two minutes behind at this point.

 

Movistar come to the fore

The front trio continued to increase their advantages as they made their way up the long, steady Cote du Puy Saint-Mary which signaled the start of the hilly finale. In the peloton, Rowe set the pace all the way up the ascent and as he rode pretty slowly, it was easy for Stuyven, Sylvain Chavanel, Robert Wagner, Arashiro, Matteo Bono and Louis Meintjes to rejoin the peloton after a small crash.

 

De Gendt easily won the KOM sprint ahead of Grivko and Van Avermaet while the chasers reached the top 2.30 later. When the peloton got there, they had lost a massive 15 minutes but now both Rowe and Stannard had started to work and they even got some help from Imanol Erviti (Movistar). The Spanish team knew that it was too late to win the stage but they didn’t want to lose control of the race.

 

Coquard wins the sprint

Van Avermaet led Grivko and De Gendt across the line in the intermediate sprint while Pauwels, Sicard, Majka, Gautier, Vachon and Huzarski crossed the line in that order. There was more action in the peloton where Etixx-QuickStep did a full lead-out with Julien Vermote, Tony Martin, Maximilano Richeze and Fabio Sabatini but Marcel Kittel was beaten by Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie). Kittel, Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Sagan were next across the line.

 

After the sprint, Vasil Kiryienka came to the fore for Sky and he started to cooperate with Erviti. The pair upped the pace significantly and the gap had dropped to 13.50 when they entered the final 50km.

 

Movistar do some damage

As they hit the third climb, Kiryienka and Erviti rode pretty hard and the gap came down steadily. However, the front trio continued to increase their advantage over the chasers who were now almost three minutes behind.

 

While De Gendt easily beat Van Avermaet and Grivko in the KOM sprint, Movistar decided that it was time to put their rivals under pressure. Winner Anacona and Nelso Oliveira hit the front and they created an immediate selection, with Eisel, Cavendish, Kristoff, McLay, Sieberg, Bak, Howard, Coquard, Tulik, Groenewegen and Haller being among the first rider to get dropped. Greipel hung on for a little longer but finally had to surrender. Moments later, the front trio hit the hardest climb where the race really started.

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