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Mezgec survives the late climbs on the Alt de Lilla and makes another demonstration of power to underline his status as the - by far - fastest rider in the Volta a Catalunya peloton to pick up his third stage win; Rodriguez defends his lead

Photo: © Cor Vos / Team Giant-Shimano

JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ OLIVER

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JULIAN ALAPHILIPPE

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LUKA MEZGEC

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SAMUEL DUMOULIN

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TEAM SUNWEB

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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28.03.2014 @ 20:33 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Luka Mezgec (Giant-Shimano) continued his excellent performance at the Volta a Catalunya when he took what seemed to be a very easy sprint win in today's fifth stage of the Spanish race. The Slovenian survived the late climb of the Alt de Lilla that was the scene for an attack from Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) before launching a powerful sprint to hold off Julian Alaphilippe (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) in the final dash to the line.

 

Luka Mezgec continues to show that he is unrivalled when it comes to sprinting in the Volta a Catalunya. Today he added a third stage win to his ever-growing palmares when he won the tricky fifth stage to Valls in convincing fashion.

 

Prior to the stage there had been some discussion whether the stage would be one for the sprinters or one for a breakaway as the category 2 Alt de Lilla featured just 8.9km from the line. Giant-Shimano appeared to have their concerns as well as they decided to send Georg Preidler into the early move.

 

However, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Lampre-Merida and mainly Cannondale all had intentions of a final bunch sprint and so the trio of teams worked together to bring things back together in time for the final climb. Mezgec dug deep on the slopes that were tackled at a fast pace and he made it up with the main peloton.

 

However, the climb was the scene of some drama as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) made an attempt to take back some time from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). He failed in his quest though but at the top a small group of favourites had gone clear.

 

Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) made his bid for glory over the top and was the lone leader for most of the downhill run to the finish. As a big portion of the peloton came back together, however, it was mission impossible for the Dane who was swallowed up inside the final 5km.

 

Instead, it all came down to a sprint finish from the reduced group and here the outcome was never in doubt. Omega Pharma-Quick Step delivered Julian Alaphilippe on the front but as soon as Mezgec launched his sprint, he opened a massive gap to the young Frenchman who held on to take 2nd ahead of Samuel Dumoulin.

 

Rodriguez finished safely in the bunch to defend his 4-second lead over Alberto Contador and he will wear the leader's jersey again tomorrow when the race continues with what seems to be the easiest stage of the entire race. With just a single category 3 climb at the midpoint, it could be another day for Mezgec to shine.

 

Sprint or breakaway?

After two consecutive mountain stages, it was time for flatter terrain as the riders took on the fifth stage of the race that brought them over 218.2km from the start in Camprodon to Valls. The stage mostly consisted of a long downhill run back from the Pyrenees with some rolling terrain along the way but the route had a nasty sting in its tail as the riders went up the Category 2 Alt de Lilla (6.3km, 4.8%, max. 7%) just 8.9km from the line. From there it was a fast descent followed by a short flat stretch to the finish.

 

After yesterday's cold conditions, it was much warmer at the start as the temperatures reached 11 degrees. However, there was a rather strong wind that could potentially have an influence on the race. Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) and Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) who suffers from stomach problems, were the two non-starters and after just two kilometres of racing David Tanner (Belkin) also threw in the towel.

 

A fast start

As it is usually the case in stages where a break has a chance to stay clear, the start was a very fast one and it took a long time for the escape to get established. After 7km to racing, a dangerous situation was about to arise when a big group moved ahead but Katusha brought it back together.

 

At the 14km mark, it seemed that the right combination had formed when Pieter Serry (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Michel Koch (Cannondale), Chad Haga (Giant-Shimano), Fumiyuki Beppu (Orica-GreenEDGE), and Mateusz Taciak (CCC Polsat) took off and built up a 30-second gap. However, some teams were not satisfied to have missed the move and after 19km the break had been caught.

 

The break is formed

Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) who has been sick, was the next rider to leave the race as the peloton continued at a very rapid speed, with several unsuccessful attacks being launched. The riders covered 44.5km in the first hour but Katusha had not allowed anyone to build up a bigger gap.

 

At the 56km mark, five riders had a 20-second gap and they were later joined by two more riders to form the right move. Steven Kruijswijk (Belkin), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Jeremy Roy (FDJ), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Georg Preidler (Giant-Shimano), Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural), and Lukasz Owsian (CCC) were the riders on the attack and they were 1.40 ahead after 62km of racing as the peloton had finally slowed down.

 

Koch bridges across

Koch was keen to defend his leads in the Miguel Poblet and sprint competitions and so he took off in pursuit. Impressively, he made the junction at the 64km mark when the group was 2.30 ahead.

 

There was no cohesion in the front group and so Burghardt and Preidler attacked. At the 70km mark, they were 20 seconds ahead and as they worked well together, the gap continued to grow.

 

The peloton in no hurry

At the 92km mark, they were 2 minutes ahead while the peloton had completely slowed down, allowing the gap to the leaders to grow to 8.45 as Katusha were content to just set a steady pace. However, they gradually set into motion and after 111km of racing, they had reduced the advantage to 7.30. There seemed to be no coming back for the six chasers though as they were 3.11 behind at that point.

 

Preidler was first across the line in the first intermediate sprint while Koch took third to extend his lead in the sprint competition. In the second sprint, Burghardy took maximum points while Koch again took third.

 

The peloton gets back to work

The chasers were now 3.35 behind while the peloton had kept the gap stable at around 7.15 for some time. However, Lampre-Merida and Omega Pharma-Quick Step now went to work and they brought the gap down to 3.05 with 35km remaining.

 

As the chasers were about to get swallowed up by the peloton, Kruijswijk and Rolland attacked. The duo worked well together until Rolland left his companion behind.

 

The break is caught

With 33km to go, Rolland made the junction but the peloton was now only 35 seconds behind and had caught Kruijswijk and all other escapees. Cannondale had now gone to work and were leading the peloton with occasional assistance from Lampre.

 

With 29km to go, the gap was 26 seconds but 2km further up the road, it was all back together. The battle for position was now fierce as all wanted to be well-positioned for the climb, with Cannondale and Lampre-Merida still riding hard on the front.

 

Hesjedal makes a move

Cannondale led the group all the way to the bottom where Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sahrp) launched an immediate attack. The 2012 Giro champion got a nice little gap while Movistar and Ag2r were now leading the peloton.

 

Lieuwe Westra (Astana) was the next to attack and he passed Hesjedal. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Phil Gaimon (Garmin) joined Hesjedal and while the Spaniard continued on his own, the two Garmin riders were both caught.

 

Contador tries to shake Rodriguez off

Damien Howson (Orica-GreenEDGE) and a Sky rider joined Navarro and the trio reached Westra just at the same time as they had been caught by the peloton which was now led by Tinkoff-Saxo, the team preparing an attack from Contador. The Spaniard took off and was joined by Romain Bardet (Ag2r) but just a few moments later, Rodriguez had bridged across with Robert Kiserlovski (Trek), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) on his wheel.

 

As Contador slowed down, more riders joined from behind, including Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r), and Fuglsang used the standstill to attack over the top. Kiserlovski took off in pursuit while Quintana also gave it an unsuccessful go.

 

Fuglsang is caught

Fuglsang managed to build up a nice gap on the descent while Kiserlovski was caught by the main group which had been rejoined by a big group from behind. Fuglsang did well to stay clear until he hit the final 5km but he was brought back by the Cannondale team.

 

Ivan Basso took a huge turn on the front for his sprinter Daniele Ratto until Tinkoff-Saxo and later Angel Vicioso went to work for Katusha. Just before the flamme rouge, Hesjedal made another attack but Warren Barguil shut it down for Giant-Shimano.

 

Omega Pharma-Quick Step now did their lead-out with Rigoberto Uran and Pieter Serry but Alaphilippe was well-placed a little further back on Mezgec's wheel. However, he had no response when the sprint was launched and had to settle for second behind the unbeatable Slovenian.

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