An intermediate type of stage which as the potential to cause trouble at the top of the general classification, Stage 5’s 175.7km route from Benicàssim to Alcossebre offers plenty of opportunities for the major names to unexpectedly turn the screw on one another. Soon heading uphill after the day’s departure, the first ascent is the Category 2 Alto del Desierto de las Palmas, a 7.8km (avg 4.8%) launchpad for the day’s breakaway to likely form upon. From here the road drops away for a period, before climbing the Category 3 Alto de Cabanes (7.3 km, avg 4.4%) en route to the Category 2 Coll de la Bandereta (4.6 km, avg 7.6%.) The tempo of the day’s racing is likely to increase as they drop into the valley, preparing for the final Category 2 climb of the day; the Alto de la Serratella. Despite lasting a total of 13.2 km, its low average gradient of 3.7% makes it an extremely manageable affair for all the expected frontrunners on the day. The spotlight shall then be upon the gradual descent back to level ground, which is a short lived relief, as the conclusion of the day is the steep Category 3 Ermita Sta. Lucia. The 3.4km kick is far from a smooth ride to the top, finishing 1.4km from the finish line and possessing gradients which reach 20%. Anyone ahead on their own by this point will have no technical concerns during the run into the finale kilometre, though the road does kick up once more to 8% before the line.
Romain Bardet was expected to be riding here on the hunt for stage wins, yet his showing thus far does suggest he could be aiming higher than this, regardless today’s finale certainly meets the criteria the Frenchman requires for another grand tour stage win. Often performing well on these steep drives to the line, Bardet will be expected to push hard over the top and aim to have a gap to his rivals heading into the final kilometre. However, if that is not successful, he is still able to turn in a convincing sprint effort against other climbers in a fight for the win. Given his apparent diminished threat to the general classification, he may be allowed to take this if he is unlikely to steal a great deal of time in the process.
Esteban Chaves knows that this will be a good opportunity to not only win the stage, but also put time into Chris Froome, potentially delivering him the leader’s jersey in the process. The irregular nature of the final climb, as well as the 20% inclines, do not suit Chris Froome at all and Chaves shall not hesitate to exploit this if possible. His form is often very strong for this final grand tour of the year and he has already performed convincingly enough to suggest there is a good chance he is the man to beat on Stage 5.
Michael Woods did not look an imposter when forming part of the elite leading group on Stage 3, dropping a big hint that he has a potential stage win in him for 2017’s La Vuelta a España. He will need his team to work hard and ensure the breakaway does not get to the final climb first, but if they do achieve this, then this is close to being an ideal finish for the Cannondale – Drapac captain. If the group of favourites begins to hesitate late in the day, Woods is a rider who will invest everything in jumping ahead and holding it right the way to the line.
Omar Fraile seems the rider most likely to strike out for the win from an earlier breakaway or move, a skill he displayed repeatedly well during Spring / Summer this year. He has been particularly well hidden during these opening stages, though the consensus is that he is simply keeping himself safe, rather than struggling to maintain pace with a hectic first week of racing. Should he make the cut for the day’s move, then it is hard to see anyone else alongside him being a greater favourite for the stage honours.
Other riders to consider for Stage 5 are Lachlan Morton, Julian Alaphilippe, Alessandro De Marchi and Chris Froome.
1st Romain Bardet 2nd Esteban Chaves 3rd Michael Woods