Italian Damiano Cunego took the victory on the fifth stage of the Vuelta al País Vascso from Vitoria to Orio. The 26-year-old Lampre rider prevailed in the sprint from a select group of favourites over GC leader Alberto Contador (Astana) and Rabobank rider Thomas Dekker. The 162 kilometer route was made more difficult by cold temperatures and heavy rain falls, resulting in several breakaways, most notably one with Basque Egoi Martínez from Euskaltel – Euskadi, who was able to win the general mountain classification one day before the finish of the race, and Gerolsteiner's Bernhard Kohl.
"I am very happy, this is my fifth Vuelta al País Vasco, but my first stage win," declared Cunego in the finish. "I am very content, it is something special. The stage was quite hard due to the cold and the rain, and I have to say thank you to my team-mates who did a great work. I feel very satisfied. Tomorrow is another day and a difficult time trial. For now, I will enjoy my victory, tomorrow we will see what will happen."
Contador was pleased with the day's effort, and looked ahead to the final stage time trial on Saturday. "Until now, my team did really a great job. Tomorrow it is I who will have to work. I am surely one of the favourites, but Cadel Evans and Thomas Dekker are not to be underestimated."
Martínez was happy about his mountain jersey win. "It is very great to win this classification," he exclaimed. He was happy to give the team a win of some sort. "We tried to win a stage and we almost reached it. We had been present every day, and we won the mountain classification. Tomorrow could still be a great day for Mikel [Astarloza]," declared Martínez.
How it unfolded
It's not withouut reason that the inhabitants of Vitoria call their city "Siberia": this morning the temperatures were at only 4° Celsius and the wind made it seem even colder. The start was not at the centre of the Basque capital as usual, because there is a tramway under construction, and so the organisation decided launch the fifth stage from the outskirts of the city. Nevertheless, there were a lot of spectators who wanted to see their heroes live and to send them off.
At 12:55, the remaining 136 riders started their ride in a northward direction. A Basque proverb says: "Abril – aguas mil" (April, thousand waters), and today this was confirmed once again. It rained during almost the entire stage, and the mountains near to the route were covered with snow.
After 16 kilometers, the first riders attacked. Saunier Duval's Iker Camaño, Liquigas rider Iván Santaromita, the two Euskaltel – Euskadi riders Iñaki Isasi and Iván Velasco, Ag2r's José Luis Arrieta and Milram rider Igor Astarloa tried their luck, but the peloton chased them down only two kilometers later.
In the descent of the Alto de Arlabán, a mountain that was not classified, the peloton broke apart with the overall leader, Astana's Alberto Contador, together with about 25 other riders in the front. Finally, the two groups came together and some kilometers later, four riders were able to escape.
Matej Mugerli from Liquigas, Rabobank's Paul Martens, Kanstantsi Siutsou from the Team High Road and Milram's Andriy Grivko were able to gain a maximal advantage of 1 minute and 30 seconds. On the climb to the Alto de Elosua (2nd category), the Rabobank rider was not able to follow the rhythm of his mates. The leader of the mountain classification, Egoi Martínez tried to reach the trio in front, but was chased down by the peloton.
After 51.6 kilometers, the summit of the Alto de Elosua was reached and crossed first by Mugerli, ahead of Siutsou and Grivko. Fourth was the young Amets Txurruka from Euskaltel – Euskadi. In Azpeitia, the trio in front was chased down by the peloton, but three kilometers later, a new breakaway group of 13 riders tried its luck – without avail.
Once again Mugerli and Grivko were in the next group to attack. Together with Martínez and the Austrian Bernhard Kohl from Gerolsteiner, they were able to put a few seconds between themselves and the peloton. Grivko was unlucky and had a puncture, while. Mugerli paid for his energy expenditure on the earlier move, and was not able to follow the rhythm of the Basque and the Austrian rider.
Fdjeux.com's Sandy Casar tried to reach the duo in front, but after a time in 'no man's land', gave up his pursuit and went back to the peloton. Martínez collected some more important mountain points as he crossed first at the summit of the Alto de Santa Ageda, classified as a second category mountain.
After 97 kilometers, just before the ascent of the Alto de Alkiza (3rd category), mother nature threw another punishment at the riders, and it began to hail. Nevertheless, Saunier Duval's David de la Fuente and the Silence – Lotto rider Jurgen van den Broeck set off in pursuit of the duo in front. Martínez put in a good performance and was able to win the mountain classification of the Alto de Alkiza, ahead of Kohl, with De la Fuente taking the rest of the points from the bunch.
Kohl took out the intermediate sprint in Andoain, and also the next one in Usurbil. The peloton was lead by the team of the yellow jersey, Astana, and by the team Lampre. The advantage of the pair in front began to decrease, and finally, the peloton chased the two down before the intermediate sprint in Andatza, which was won by Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre), followed by Silence Lotto's Christophe Brandt and Saunier Duval's Iker Camaño.
The fireworks waited for the main obstacle of the day, the Alto de Aia - only a second category climb, but with a horribly steep pitch reaching up to 26 %. This ramp provided a launch pad for Caisse d'Epargne's Joaquím Rodríguez, who attacked the race leader Contador, the Astana rider was able to resist all attacks and hit the top of the climb first, while the peloton was shattered by the clash of the climbers.
The remaining 14 kilometres to the finishing town of Orio was mainly downhill, but with wet roads and frozen hands gripping the bars, the peloton arrived in the town still fractured by the final climb. In the last roundabout, 250 meters before the finish, Karpin Galicia's David Herrero, the Australian Cadel Evans from Silence Lotto and Saunier Duval's Riccardo Riccò slipped due to some sand that was on a crosswalk and crashed. Damiano Cunego and Alberto Contador sprinted for the stage victory, and the Italian was able to beat the Spaniard.
David Herrero had to be brought to the hospital for x-rays, but no breaks were found and he will be able to start the final stage.
The sixth and last stage will consist of an individual time trial over 20 kilometers with start and finish in Orio. The riders will have to overcome the Alto de Aia, this time from the other side, but with a maximal climb of 22 % and an average climb of 7.18 % over four kilometers.