The Vuelta a España's fifth stage may have seen André Greipel (Columbia-HTC) crowned as the new race leader, but for those more likely to hold the position in Madrid a fortnight from now, the stage was all about adjustment to a dramatic change in conditions. Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde and Rabobank's Robert Gesink were two overall favourites pleased to have got through an exhausting first day in Spain.
"For me, today was a day of acclimatization," said Gesink on his team's website. "[The plan was to] not do anything crazy and keep a cool head. It is very hot here and it could be even more so in next few days, so it was good that we could lay low."
Valverde echoed the Dutchman's comments about the weather. "Such a change of weather is always difficult," he said. "The difference between the temperatures in the Benelux and the sudden very hot ones here close to the Mediterranean meant that the peloton was very tired when they reached the finish."
Despite a switch to dry conditions, both riders remained vigilant as a crash-spooked peloton continued on a nervous journey towards Vinaròs. Gesink said the drama of the first few days was atypical to his own experience of the Vuelta.
"Normally it's not such a hectic race. Today the peloton was it still nervous," said Gesink. "The whole day we had to ride cautiously. It was different from what I remember last year in the Vuelta. I just have to stay alert, but I can't deny that it is going well so far."
Gesink and Valverde both lost small amounts of time on stage five. However, with sprinters the beneficiaries of the advantage, neither rider will be too concerned as the roads begin to tilt to their advantage. Valverde remains in tenth place overall, 27 seconds behind Greipel. Gesink is a further six seconds further back, in 20th position.
After another day of survival on stage six to Xàtiva the next real test for Valverde and Gesink will be Saturday's time trial in Valencia. The peloton will then face up to the first mountain stage of the race. For the Rabobank captain, who crashed out of this year's Tour de France before he was given the chance to really show off his climbing prowess, the days at altitude cannot come soon enough.
"The time trial is as flat as a dime. The highest point is ten meters and the track is about a broad highway; a straight out-and-back. In truth, it's not quite my thing, but we will see," he said. "My big chance will come in the mountains on Sunday. I feel very good now, but I'm still unsure of how I will be relative to the rest of the field. We'll find out in the hills."
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