It was a hard day for GC riders in Itzulia Basque County stage 5. Remco Evenepoel showed some great legs and attacked from the peloton at the end of the Karabieta climb, forming a group containing all the major GC contenders except race leader Primož Roglič as well as Adam Yates. Evenepoel in the end lost in the uphill finish to Dani Martinez, but the Belgian became the new race leader after Vlasov was crashed by Jonas Vingegaard. The stage was won from the breakaway by 21-year-old Carlos Rodriguez who drafted for many kilometres behind Marc Soler and dropped the UAE-Emirates rider on the last categorized climb, taking his first pro victory.
It was a perfect chance for the breakaway to get a win as Jumbo-Visma did not look capable of controlling attacks. After numerous attempts to form a break, with 100 km to go a strong 7-man breakaway formed. The biggest GC threats were Pello Bilbao (6th in GC, +0:19 to Roglič) and Marc Soler (14th, +1:08). They were in the group with Carlos Rodriguez, Kenny Elissonde, Lucas Hamilton, Sergio Samitier and Sepp Kuss. It was strange to see Kuss in the group as Jumbo-Visma were chasing the dangerous breakaway to not let the gap grow too big.
Later Bilbao dropped out of the group because with him in it nobody would let the breakaway win and the other riders in the breakaway probably convinced him to drop out voluntarily. The tempo was hard and with 59 km to go, only Soler and Rodriguez remained in the group. Unfortunately, Lucas Hamilton needed to abandon as he crashed on a descent and went over a barrier into a ravine.
Soler and Rodriguez took over a 4 minute gap on a tired peloton. Rodriguez already had lost more than 6 minutes in GC before the stage and was riding solely for the stage win, while Soler was still high in GC with only 68 seconds back to Roglič. This meant that Soler needed to be at the front the whole time, while Rodriguez was drafting behind the frustrated UAE-Emirates rider.
Teams outside of Jumbo-Visma and Quickstep began to chase in the peloton as they were lacking the fire power to bring the duo back or close the gap at all. Bahrain-Victorious and Bora-Hansgrohe sent their domestiques to the front, with Herman Pernsteiner and Emanuel Buchmann working for their team leaders Pello Bilbao (6th in GC) and Aleksandr Vlasov (4th).
Everybody was waiting for the GC action on this stage on the Karabieta and Remco Evenepoel delivered it. The Belgian attacked on the false flat section in the end of the climb and only the strongest GC riders could follow him. At first glance, nobody wanted to work after Remco ended his pull, as everybody’s legs were probably cooked at that moment. Ion Izagirre from Cofidis did a turn and that encouraged others to work together. The biggest riders to miss the move were the race leader Primož Roglič and Adam Yates, but they at least had teammates in the first group, Jonas Vingegaard and Dani Martinez. It was not clear if Roglič was feeling bad or if he could follow the attack but chose not to due to some tactical plan.
Meanwhile, Rodriguez was still drafting behind Soler, who was riding full-gas. It was clear that the INEOS rider at some point needed to help Soler or attack him if he had good legs. Rodriguez attacked at the top of the climb with 14 km to go. It was not the best time as there was a high chance he would get caught and Martinez would have needed a domestique in the GC favourites group behind them, but Rodriguez decided to go for the stage victory.
The big group with Roglič and Yates behind was not going to catch anyone as only Groupama-FDJ were chasing with Sebastian Reichenbach who as we saw in the Finestre stage of the Giro d’Italia 2018, is not the man to bring back a move in a hurry. All riders behind the Swiss had teammates in the front group riders and were not willing to help for obvious reasons. The gap grew to over a minute to Evenepoel’s group despite only he, Izagirre and Vlasov consistently working, with Martinez and Vingegaard sitting in.
Rodriguez in the end, finished first a handful of seconds ahead of the GC group behind, taking his first ever pro victory at age 21. It was a matter of time as he already showed great potential in the early 2022 season races, finishing 3rd in Valenciana GC and 4th in Vuelta a Andalucia.
The last 500 metres were extremely steep and the wet asphalt did not make life easier for riders as Vlasov and Vingegaard crashed with 25 metres to go and finished, walking up the last metres. Vingegaard lost control of the bike and pushed Vlasov in the barriers.
Martinez finished first from the GC group, beating Evenepoel by 2 seconds, but that was not enough and the Belgian became the new race leader. It was an impressive performance by Evenepoel as he worked the most and hardest in the group, which was formed after his attack. Without the Vlasov crash, Martinez would likely have taken the GC lead with Evenepoel missing out on additional bonus seconds.
The biggest losers of the day were Jumbo-Visma and Primož Roglič. After the finish, the Slovenian in a short interview said that the stage went at the way he wanted. That makes little sense, as after today’s stage Roglič lost more than a minute to other GC contenders, and on the last steep 500m hill he lost quite a bit of time to ultra-mythical climbers Felix Gall and Fernando Barcelo.
Roglič before the stage admitted in an interview his legs were not in top shape and stage 5 probably proved that he was not lying about that. Regardless, Jumbo-Visma’s plan to ‘give away’ the leader’s jersey before the final stage, like they did last year, appears to have backfired, with their best place rider Jonas Vingegaard sitting 6th in GC, behind Evenepoel by 29 seconds and Martinez by 27.
It will be very hard for Evenepoel to defend the race lead as Quick-Step does not have a strong supporting cast and he might be isolated early. Martinez has looked great and INEOS with Rodriguez, Tullett, Thomas, Hart, Yates and Fraile can do a lot of damage. INEOS might be interested in controlling the stage as Martinez is only 2 seconds back to Evenepoel and Martinez will be favoured to drop the Belgian on the steep sub 15 minute climb finish at the end of a very hard day. For Evenepoel to defend his GC lead he will need to produce his career-best numbers on the Krabellin and Arrate climbs.
The last stage of the Basque race as usual, will finish up the mighty Arrate climb (4.4km, 8.90%). Before that there will be many hard climbs. Last year everything the race was turned on its head before the steep Krabelin climb (4.9km, 9.78%), when UAE-Emirates were not ready for a descent attack from the Astana daredevils and lost the race. Roglič won the GC, while Gaudu took the stage with Pogacar left frustrated behind.