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Stage five takes us nearly 200 kilometers to the east, and will most likely be one for the sprinters. The men with the fast legs will be ready to go to it again after suffering in the first mountain stages – or did they save their strength for today?
Hello and welcome back to the Vuelta a Espana. We have the fifth stage today, 198.8km from Guadix to Lorca. We look for a sprint finish this afternoon.
Once again we have a four-man break with a large gap. Today's fearless four are Pierre Rolland (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Jose Vicente Toribio (Andalucia CajaSur), Arnaud Labbe (Cofidis) and David Gutierrez ( Footon-Servetto). After 88 kms, the gap is 5:17.
The stage started out with a moment of silence to honour Laurent Fignon, who died from cancer yesterday.
All of the riders who finished the race yesterday started today. And happily, it is a bit cooler. At least it was cooler at the start, a pleasant 21° Celsius.
The leading foursome has now passed the second intermediate sprint: Labbe ahead of Roland and Toribio.
The first intermediate sprint came at km 69, with Gutierrez ahead of Toribio and Rolland.
Labbe and Rolland opened the attack today, getting away right at the sharp start. The gap has been as high as 6:34.
This is officially a “flat” stage, but it is anything but flat. “”Rolling” doesn't really fit, either. “Constant ups and downs” seems to us to be the best description.
We're about halfway through now, so it is mealtime for the four escapees. They are the first to hit the feed zone.
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) wears the red jersey for the second day in a row. The Belgian had good reasons for being satisfied with the way he defended his lead at the uphill finish of Valdepenas de Jaén. “I was the only non-climber at the top of the last climb before the finishing town”, he said at the start in Guadix. “I’ve pushed myself hard because of the red jersey. I wouldn’t have done it for a seventh or a tenth place. The team goes well. I’m happy to think that I might be the race leader for several days. I cope well with the heat here these days. In my current situation, I can handle anything.”
Lots of sun today. And no trees, at least where the peloton is now.
The gap is down now, by the way. It is 4:18.
Tyler Farrar punctures. It takes quite a while for help to come, but he is not at all worried. He shouldn't have any trouble catching backup with the field, especially since he has two teammates hovering nearby.
And now the peloton comes to the feed zone.
Yauheni Hutarovich has tasted blood at this Vuelta, beating the top-name sprinters in Stage two, and wouldn't he love to do it again. “He’s full of confidence”, said FDJ directeur sportif Thierry Bricaud. “Our team doesn’t have the characteristics for forming a train to lead him out but everyone is committed to help him get the green jersey back.”
Branislav Samoilau hopes to imitate his compatriot Hutarovich. “It’s important for a rider from Belarus to win a stage in a Grand Tour”, said the climber from QuickStep. “I finished the Giro in good condition and finished 11th at the Dauphiné, so I would have liked to ride the Vuelta for GC but unfortunately, I got sick just before coming here. I had to take antibiotics. That’s why I’m not able to challenge the favourites but I’ll try to win a stage.”
Let's take a look at the leaders in the various categories. Philippe Gilbert of Omega Pharma-Lotto is in red again today. Igor Anton (Euskaltel) used his stage win yesterday to move up to second overall, with Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez third.
Anton also took over the lead of the points classifications, ahead of Gilbert and Rodriguez. In the mountain ranking, Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia) leads Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) and David Moncoutie (Cofidis).
Oscar Freire of Rabobank is back among the team cars, and has now joined a small group moving their way up to the peloton.
The field is still taking it pretty easy at this point. Theo Bos of Cervelo does some leg stretches.
A number of teams are announcing their new signings for 2011 today, including Garmin-Transitions. The US-based team said it was taking on Haussler, Lancaster, Klier, Lloyd, Hammond and Rasch.
We talked to Heinrich Haussler earlier today about his move to Garmin next year. The Australian said the strong Classics squad would really kick some, er, we mean, do some damage next spring.
Sorry for the lack of news about the race, but let's be honest: there's just not much happening. We have two Frenchmen and two Spaniards with a four- to four-and-a-half-minute lead over the peloton. In due time they will be caught and we will have a mass sprint.
A Lampre rider is at the head of the peloton, followed by Omega Pharma-Lotto.
Grischa Niermann of Rabobank is loading up with water bottles. Literally. How can he still ride with so many full bottles stuffed into his jersey?
The gap is coming down, slowly but surely. It is now 3:45.
The four leaders have now entered the province of Murcia.
BMC Racing Team is not at the Vuelta, but made news today with a bunch of new signings for next year: Tschopp, Quinziato, Santaromita, Eijssen, Van Avermaet and Moinard. You can read the details here.
Since Bernhard Eisel pulled out of the Tour of Spain at km 52 of stage 4, sprinter ace Mark Cavendish has lost his train’s driver. “He was sick the night before”, said Tristan Hoffman, HTC-Columbia DS. “He tried to race but he couldn’t. With the opening team time trial at midnight and the heat, many other riders of the Vuelta are likely to be sick as well.” Can the Manx Missile continue to win without Eisel or favourite leadout man Mark Renshaw.
The gap is down once again, to 2:30.
The new Luxembourg team with Fränk and Andy Schleck will be riding Trek bikes next year, it was announced today.
The Lampre rider continues to lead the field, followed of course by Omega Pharma-Lotto.
The gap is now only 2:02. The field doesn't want to catch them too soon, though.
The gap is now under two minutes.
Nicholas Roche is no longer sick. “I felt bad and I was vomiting at the beginning of the Vuelta but now I’m fully healthy and very motivated after what I did yesterday. I like steep hills like this”, said the Ag2r-La Mondiale captain. The Irishman finished stage 4 in eighth place and gained seven seconds over overall super favourites Denis Menchov and Fränk Schleck.
Lots of Lampre at the front now as the peloton races through a city.
Rabobank also puts in an appearance at the front -- they think that Oscar Freire has recovered from his nose/sinus surgery enough to take a sprint win.
And, no surprise, we see some of those white and yellow HTC-Columbia riders popping up near the front of things.
Astana brings Alan Davis up to the front for the upcoming sprint.
The cars have squeezed by the four escapees, a sure sign that they will soon be caught and swallowed up by the peloton.
The field is closely packed, and the gap is only about 52 seconds.
The break group will soon be broken (so to speak). Will the field stay together until the end, or will we see further escape attempts?
Denis Menchov has passed the first hills with no problem. He’s satisfied with his current fourteenth place 1.11 down on Gilbert. “Yesterday’s stage finish was not exactly for me”, the Russian from Rabobank said. “I’m not explosive enough for such a steep hill. I haven’t raced between the Tour and the Vuelta, so it’ll take a bit of time for me to be at my best. I prefer to take it day by day than to announce any goal for the overall classification. The most important will be to be good in the second week. Andorra will mark the big start of the Vuelta.”
Serafin Martinez of Xacobeo-Galicia must be as bored as we are. He just hopped to the front and picked up the speed of things. The gap is now only 20 seconds.
The four leaders are still hanging on to their lead, but it won't be for long.
The peloton is now looming in the immediate background.
The escapees are caught as the peloton splits to go around a traffic circle. Or roundabout, if you're British.
THe pace is high now, to keep everyone together. Lots of looking around as to where all the teammates are.
Liquigas take over the leadwork at the 11km marker.
It's a bit hard to tell, but it looks now as if HTC-Columbia is at the head of the peloton as it passes under the 8km marker.
Someone in blue is now in front -- Astana.
Hutarovich has already found Cavendish' rear wheel.
Those riders not involved in the sprint or the GC fight are taking it easy and falling back.
A mechanical for a Cofidis rider -- bad timing!
HTC-Columbia charges under the 5km banner.
The speed is high now, 53km/h, with 3.5 km to go.
Lampre brings Petacchi up, with 2 km to go.
Lampre, followed b QuickStep. Where did HTC-Columbia disappear to?
HOndo, Petacchi, Förster, Davis, we see all of them. No Cavendish.....
Hondo leds the way....There is Cavendish! But he went too soon and Farrar takes it!
It looks like an Euskaltel rider was second, and Cavendish third. Cavendish pulled up when he saw Farrar would take the win.
Philippe Gilbert successfully defended his leader's jersey, and we expect no changes in the GC.
That is Farrar's second Vuelta stage win. He won the 11th stage from Murcia to Caravaca de la Cruz last year.
That's all folks. Join us again tomorrow as we continue our journey throughout Spain.