The American Tejay Van Garderen stole the show on the Volta a Catalunya’s queen stage, crossing the line ahead of a pursuing Richie Porte who missed out on challenging the BMC captain by only 2 seconds. Though the drama was focused at the front of affairs, it was an understated performance from Bart De Clercq which allowed him to slip unexpectedly into the leader’s jersey. He should not have to worry immediately as to how he will defend his lead, as stage 5 is a rolling affair with a sharp climb before a long descent to the finish; many riders will do their best to make the day’s breakaway. If any of the sprinters who have survived this far are present at the finish, then they should benefit the most on a day when the general classification riders are expected to be quiet, but 2015’s Volta a Catalunya has failed to be so predicable thus far.
A long gradual descent will form the opening 80km of stage 5’s 195.4km ride from Alp to Valls, offering only the one categorised climb to conquer throughout the whole day. At the 80km marker the peloton will take the small rise up to Oliana, this is followed by a downward slope before levelling out for a flat ride to the start of the ascent to Belltall. This is an uncategorised climb which gently sweeps skywards before dropping sharply once again, placing the peloton this time at the foot of the day’s only noted climb; the Alt de Lilla. Its average gradient over 4.1km is 4.8% and with a maximum of 7% at times, this has the potential to knock a few riders out the back after a lengthy day’s ride. Only 10.1km remain once the top of the Alt de Lilla is reached and the descent lasts until 3.4km from the line; it is only here the road levels out once again. The non-technical downhill will not benefit a breakaway as their is little chance of slipping out of sight, nor tasking the cumbersome peloton with negotiating difficult bends. In contrast the flat section is reasonably taxing; this includes road furniture, several bends, a 90 degree turn with 600m remaing and even a roundabout only 100m from the line.
Those with eyes on the general classification will up the tempo on the Alt de Lilla in an attempt to crack the legs of the current unlikely leader Bart De Clarcq. Time gaps are certainly possible, but their interests will not be centred on winning the stage finish in Valls, increasing the likelihood of a breakaway or sprint deciding the day. With such a limited stock of sprinters still present in this race, it will be hard for teams working for a bunch kick to control a well organised breakaway group; many sprinters’ teams now harbour general classification aims instead too. All of this adds up to a very difficult task of calculating who is most likely to not only make it into a decisive move, but to also have the ability to win the day overall.
A rider who offers the diverse skill set required to succeed on stage 5 is perhaps Julian Alaphilippe, an extremely talented rider who could be allowed into the breakaway given his team leader Uran’s diminishing chances of winning overall. He is unlikely to be concerned by the terrain and will see the final 10km as a golden opportunity to demonstrate his descending ability, before hopefully sprinting for the win from a select group.
Present within that group could be Jonathan Hivert who has been riding impressively during the Volta a Catalunya thus far. He had managed to finish alongside the major contenders in the first three days of the tour, but finally lost ground when dropping almost 28 minutes to Tejay Van Garderen’s win on stage 4. Having conceded hope of a modest general classification placing, Hivert is likely to turn his attention to smuggling himself aboard the day’s decisive breakaway. He possesses a similar array of talents to Alaphilippe and would be confident of picking the right move; hopefully earning a decent placing at the line in Valls.
If a larger group makes it to the line then Kevin Reza, José Joaquín Rojas and Bryan Coquard could all be in contention with such quick finishing speed. The terrain is not too harsh for any of the afore mentioned riders, but it is only the former who is bound to have the full backing of his team if he sticks the pace. The other two stated above are easier to back in regards to their pace, but it remains unclear how much support they will find given teammates Pierre Rolland and Alejandro Valverde’s respective tilts at the general classification.
Speaking of Alejandro Valverde, the Movistar leader would definitely be a contender for the stage win if he makes it to the final kilometres within the lead group. We have already witnessed him sprinting to victory during this Volta a Catalunya and there is no doubt he will seize the chance to replicate this if possible on stage 5. A man to rival him if such a situation does arise in the absence of a breakaway or pure sprint finish is Dan Martin once again; a rider who will have been annoyed at missing out on victory already this week. Though he is not in top condition quite yet, he will certainly be where it matters coming into the end of day 5 and would be one of the quicker finishers from a group containing the mountain men.
Others who could all feature in a variety of ways include Cyril Gautier, Martin Elmiger, Pavel Kochetkov and Rafael Valls. These all performed well on day two, when Valverde convinced teammate Rojas to gift him the win. Ultimately, stage 5 is very much a lottery and anyone who predicts the eventual winner deserves a pat on the back.
1st José Joaquín Rojas 2nd Jonathan Hivert 3rd Kevin Reza