McGee enjoys the golden jersey for fourth day
The Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) had his chance and took it to win the stage 5 of the Vuelta a España in a small bunch sprint in Cuenca. Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak) was second and Josep Jufre (Relax Fuenlabrada) third, as Bradley McGee (Française des Jeux) kept the leader jersey for the fourth consecutive day.
"It's a great victory in my career," said a happy Hushovd. "After the Tour de France I rested for a few days and then I began working to race the Vuelta and the World Championships in good condition." Hushovd commented further that he wants to stay until the end of the Vuelta if he doesn't get tired. The winner admitted he didn't know today's finale because it was the first time had been to Cuenca, "But there's always a rider who explains how it is," said Hushovd.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval) ended eighth today and is now third on GC, just 41 seconds behind McGee. "To get the golden jersey was difficult," said Rodriguez to Spanish TV. "I was looking for the stage win. The route was adequate for me considering my characteristics. The truth is that many people got to the front group in the finale. Tomorrow will be another day. I should try to win. I was willing to get the overall leadership, the stages were favourable for me. I was doing well and I should get the most of this week. We should fight tomorrow."
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) was not very content as he ended 12th when he could have won today. "It was a good opportunity for me and also for Tom [Boonen]. We didn't understand each other in the last kilometre. So, today there's nothing. Tomorrow's stage will be tougher. The most important thing is to be in good condition for that day in Madrid, not the Vuelta final day but the day of the World Championships. We will all work for [Alessandro] Petacchi."
How it unfolded
Italy's Oscar Mason (Liquigas) abandoned the race yesterday. That meant there were 193 riders who started the stage in Alcazar de San Juan. The first intermediate sprint came early at km 8 in Campo de Criptana: Bernhard Eisel (La Française des Jeux), Juan Antonio Flecha and Fabio Sacchi (Fassa Bortolo) crossed in that order.
At km 30, Jose Enrique "Quique" Gutierrez (Phonak) decided to quit the race. The two crashes he suffered on Sunday and Monday were more than enough for him. He struggled to keep going, especially yesterday. "I wonder why I'm going on, I have the feeling that I continue for nothing," he told the media pre-stage. "This pain will keep going for the whole Vuelta, so it's pointless to delay the withdrawal."
There were some moves among the peloton, but the early breakaways didn't consolidate. At the Quintanar de la Orden intermediate sprint (km 42.6), Matej Jurco (Domina Vacanze) was first, Sven Montgomery (Gerolsteiner) second and Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval) third. The first race hour was very fast, with the riders covering nearly 51 km/h.
Eight riders attacked at km 61: Jakob Piil (CSC), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Eric Leblacher (Credit Agricole), Michael Barry (Discovery Channel), Patrick Calcagni (Liquigas-Bianchi), Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank), Jorge Garcia (Relax Fuenlabrada) and David De la Fuente (Saunier Duval). This turned into the break of the day as two other riders abandoned: Mirco Lorenzetto (Domina Vacanze) and Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi). Mayo came to the Vuelta to help Aitor Gonzalez, but his performance wasn't good at all as he was 108th on GC. At km 99, the group of eight had an advantage of 3'57. At the third and last intermediate sprint in Carrascosa del Campo, Michael Barry led the break, followed by Jakob Piil and Thorwald Veneberg. The gap at that point was 4'08. Barry was the best placed on GC at 1'34, so the leaders weren't allowed too much room.
The breakaway kept going, but the big peloton picked up the tempo. They began cropping the gap and at km 134 the advantage was down to 2'42. Before the Alto del Castillo (km 163.8/12.2 km to go) the peloton caught the eight breakaways.
The many attacks began with Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) at the foot of the climb. Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval) and Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) joined the Basque rider. The three leaders couldn't make a gap to the peloton and they were swallowed by a group of around 30 riders including Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth), McGee, Hushovd, Paolo Bettini, and Tom Boonen (Quick Step), among others with 11 km to go.
Samuel Sanchez didn't give up and attacked again on the descent. Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick.Step) was also very aggressive. The group could control them and they faced the last two kilometres that were fairly flat. McGee was among the top contenders of the sprint, as were Bettini and Boonen. But the wheels fell off the Quick.Step train when Tom Boonen himself led out from 1 km to go, with Bettini in tow. McGee anticipated at 500m out, but that was still too early and he was marked. Bettini jumped at around 300m, then sat up as he realised it was too early. But Hushovd had waited until the perfect moment and powered home to win ahead of Perdiguero and Jufre.
Stage 6 - September 1: Cuenca-Valdelinares, 217 km
The first big mountain challenge will come tomorrow as the peloton will end its journey at the ski station Aramon Valdelinares. This is a Category 1 climb (1980 meters above the sea) that will test the big candidates for the overall like Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros-Würth), Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), Carlos Sastre (CSC) or Denis Menchov (Rabobank). The stage has three intermediate sprints: Villalba de la Sierra (km 19.3), Puebla de Valverde (km 171.8) and Virgen de la Vega (km 206). Apart from Valdelinares, there are three climbs: Cat. 3 Alto de la Ciudad Encantada (1310 m.), Cat. 2 Puerto El Cubillo (1630 m.) and Cat. 2 Alto de San Rafael (1580 m./km 203.2). Time for the climbers to shine and for the sprinters to rest. We can not rule out some surprises among the peloton. McGee's leadership will certainly be in jeopardy.