Yesterday’s testing finale is replaced with a downgraded uphill battle on Stage 5, opening up the possibility of a stage win to the toughest sprinters who can power their way over the top of the day’s final challenge. It will take 167.3km of almost pancake flat riding for the peloton to make their way from Rota, up along the coast and cross country inland, before heading north en route to the day’s finish in Alcalá de Guadaíra. Other than an intermediate sprint which appears at a puzzling close 20km from the finish, there is little noteworthy terrain until the uphill rush to the line.
A small rise occurs with the peloton around 10km from home, this subsequently means that the road is a steady downhill drag to within less than a kilometre of the finishing line. This will no doubt deter attackers from launching solo bids as the pace of the bunch is bound to be high as general classification favourites jostle for position alongside the sprinters’ teams; until the final 3km become neutralised. Several roundabouts require negotiating, but ultimately there is little in the way of acutely technical demands on the way to the line as the road rises to 5% beginning from 800m from home. As stated previously, this is not one for the pure breed sprinter, rather those with enough grunt and power to compensate for the incline into Alcalá de Guadaíra.
Peter Sagan is the clear favourite to double up on his wins so far at this edition of the Vuelta a España, on a finish which suits him well and could even offer a small degree of insight as to his World Championship hopes later this year in Richmond, Virginia. Sagan is evidently in fantastic condition right now and will savour the 5% gradient which will level the playing field somewhat to his speedier rivals such as Nacer Bouhanni at the finish. His team will work hard on the front as they did on Stage 2, although quite begrudgingly given the lack of support from other teams who fancied their chances against him. As ever, it is worth mentioning how great Sagan is at positioning himself in the absence of a leadout train which takes him into the last 500m, usually identifying the perfect wheel to follow before making his move. Factoring all of these aspects of Sagan’s chances together and it becomes clear as to how well poised the Slovak champion is to secure his second grand tour stage in a week.
John Degenkolb will no doubt be the biggest threat to the hopes of Peter Sagan on Stage 5 and he has the required skills and team backing to push his rival to the limit in the name of victory. The German was surprisingly well beaten after what appeared to be a perfect leadout by Giant-Alpecin when Nacer Bouhanni and Peter Sagan bettered his efforts by several bike lengths respectively. On that occasion it was likely that they underestimated the strength of the tailwind, sprinting too early and providing the perfect accidental slingshot for his rivals. Degenkolb has great form for these sprints against a gradient and should enter the race confident of utilising his team support perfectly in order to compensate for Stage 2’s unexpected defeat.
Kris Boeckmans has a similarly impressive depth of support in his attempt to win Stage 5, the Belgian outfit Lotto-Soudal offering a great deal of protection in the form of Adam Hansen, Tosh van der Sande and Jasper de Buyst. Not only this, but Boeckmans is another sprinter who has his best brought out of him by these uphill finales, making him a real contender for the win.
Jempy Drucker is another man who has a great level of grit and determination to make it up this final drag to the line, with a good chance of mixing it up for the win. Though criminally under supported despite his great year of performances thus far, he will have to go it alone once again in the sprints as on day two, but remains a man to watch if he finds daylight to strike for home.
José Joaquín Rojas deserves a mention as a sprinter who often comes into contention when placed upon this type of finishing terrain. Movistar are obviously here to protect Nairo Quintana’s and Alejandro Valverde’s general classification interests, while also aiming to pick up a stage win or two with the pair along the way. However, Rojas offers a solid alternative for the Spanish team who might choose to support him in tandem to their two pronged leadership concerns up to the neutralise zone with 3km left.
Nacer Bouhanni should find this climb to the line takes the sting out of his sprint, a damning factor for the fastest man in this race, as he is unlikely to be able to maintain the power required to match the likes of John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan. That is not to say he cannot perform on this type of terrain, but the strength of his rivals is too great here to place him at the forefront of contention. Alongside this, Bouhanni has once again struggled to stay upright as of late and it is unclear as to whether or not his recent spills have affected his form yet; though they usually spur him on more.
Simon Gerrans has had a year plagued by misfortune and it is not clear as to what condition he arrives at this year’s Vuelta a España in. He remains a noteworthy contender and enjoys uphill battles for victory, though this is not tough enough for the Australian to excel upon at his best. It is expected that he shall instead be utilised to aid young sprint wonder Caleb Ewan in his attempt to notch his debut grand tour stage win, his status as second fastest man at this race could raise doubts about his ability to cope with the finale though. In fact, Ewan climbs particularly well for a sprinter and will be confident of being navigated into position by his strong leadout team in order to demonstrate this exact factor perfectly.
1st John Degenkolb 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Kris Boeckmans