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Welcome to Cyclingnews’ live coverage of stage 5 of the Vuelta a España, 187km from Sierra Nevada to Valdepeñas de Jaén.
As we pick up the action with a little under 70km still to race, Michael Albasini (HTC-Highroad) is up the road with one minute in hand over a seven-man chase group and 1:50 over the peloton.
A high-octane first hour of racing saw 18 riders just about move clear of the peloton in a group that was continually fragmenting and reforming over rolling roads north of Granada.
The steep second category Alto de Valdepeñas, where today’s stage will finish, sorted out the leaders, and saw Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) bring Albasini and Tom Slagter (Rabobank) clear, and on the descent, that leading trio developed into an eight-rider break.
The eight riders in the break were Slagter, Albasini, Taaramae, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Angel Madrazo (Movistar), Johannes Frohlinger (Skil-Shimano), Davide Malacarne (Quick Step) and Adrian Palomares (Andalucia Caja Granada).
After covering 45km in the opening hour of racing, the pace never quite died down, and the break struggled to build on its initial 1-minute lead.
Close to the 100km mark, as the break was approaching Jaen, Albasini decided to take a flyer by himself. The Swiss rider was clearly unhappy with the level of cooperation in the break and with the close attention the peloton was paying to the presence of Sagan and Taaramae, and he opted to try his luck alone.
Albasini's move looks to have been a wise one. He now holds a 2:12 lead over the peloton, while Frohlinger and Madrazo have jumped clear of the remnants of the break in pursuit.
The Quick Step squad of race leader Sylvain Chavanel are leading the pursuit in the peloton, with help from Katusha. The Russian squad are looking to set up their man Joaquim Rodriguez for the finish, which should be ideally suited to rider of his characteristics.
Albasini passes through the intermediate sprint Venta de Pantalones with 40 seconds over the Madrazo-Frohlinger tandem and 1:47 over the Quick Step-led peloton. The remnants of the break have been swallowed up by the bunch.
Katusha are making a serious contribution to the pursuit here. Today's finish is at the top of a sharp 1km climb, not altogether unlike the Mur de Huy, so it's not surprising that Rodriguez fancies his chances here.
Of course, Rodriguez was seen as the man to watch on the same finish last year, but he lost out to Igor Anton in a thrilling finale. On that occasion, Rodriguez did most of the pressing in pursuit of lone escapee Rigoberto Uran at the base of the climb, where the gradient reaches 23%. Anton bided his time, however, and zipped clear as the road flattened out in the final 400 metres to take a fine stage win ahead of Vincenzo Nibali.
Anton's Vuelta hopes suffered a significant blow yesterday on the road to Sierra Nevada, however, as he was distanced by the group of favourites. Speaking before the start this morning, Anton acknowledged that he is lacking the vim of twelve months ago. "Having lost one and half minute, it’s even very difficult to make the final podium of the Vuelta,” Anton said. “I’ll do it another year. I’m not as strong as last year. I have an incredible memory of this stage to Valdepeñas de Jaén. It was very nice. It gave me so much confidence in the fact that I can win this kind of uphill finish.”
Albasini's lead is gradually being whittled down, and it seems inevitable that the big favourites will have a shoot-out on the final haul to the line. Before that, the bunch must tackle the 9km-long Alto de Valdepeñas. The second category climb will hardly be enough to separate the favourites, but it should thin out the peloton a little. With just 8km from the summit of the climb to the finish, there is very little chance to regroup, and it will be important for the overall contenders to be alert.
Madrazo and Frohlinger have succeeded in making it across to Albasini, but in spite of the reinforcements, the gap is continuing to drop steadily.
In the race for the red jersey, Syvlain Chavanel has a lead of 43 seconds over Dani Moreno (Katusha) and 49 second over Jakob Fuglsang. In his Cyclingnews Vuelta blog, Chavanel was hopeful of defending his lead on today's short, sharp climb to the finish.
Albasini has done a very honest day's work on the front of the race, but in spite of his best efforts, the leading trio will be swept up over the Alto de Valdepeñas. Katusha are tapping out a steady tempo, and chipping away calmly at the break's advantage.
Dan Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) is among the riders who could shine on the steep slopes of the final climb to the finish. The Irishman was staying at altitude at Sierra Nevada last night, however, and he admitted that he found it difficult to sleep. “I didn’t sleep all night,” Martin explained. “I can’t stand sleeping at high altitude. I’ve watched a video of the finish, that’s how I know how it looks like. We’ll see if I have enough strength…”
Katusha have used a long, wide and slightly downhill section of road to make enormous inroads into the leading trio's advantage, with the speed touching 90kph at one point.
Just as the peloton breathes down the neck of the break, Madrazo decides to attack alone, but he surely won't survive long. Frohlinger drops back into the peloton, while Albasini lingers a little longer in no-man's land.
After holding a 10-second lead for a pair of kilometres, Madrazo sits up and lets the Katusha train sweep past.
There will be some interesting developments at Katusha in the off-season. Former Gersolteiner managerHans-Michael Holczer is set to join as team manager
, while team president Andrei Tchmil is touted to be eyeing the presidency of the European Cycling Union.
There will be some interesting developments at Katusha in the off-season. Former Gersolteiner boss Hans-Michael Holczer is set to join as team manager, while team president Andrei Tchmil is touted to be eyeing the presidency of the European Cycling Union. As was previously announced, Valerio Piva will arrive from HTC-Highroad as directeur sportif.
Out on the road, Katusha are maintaining a searing pace on the run-in to the climb of the Alto de Valdepeñas. The climb proper hasn't even started, but riders are being jettisoned off the back of the peloton.
Vladimir Karpets is prominent at the front of the bunch on the approach to the opening slopes of the climb. The team has a twin objectives today - Dani Moreno is within striking distance of the red jersey, and Joaquim Rodriguez knows that today's stage presents him with a real opportunity to take the win.
Unsurprisingly, the active Albasini is among the riders who has been distanced by the Katusha pace-setting. Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) has also been dropped and is clearly struggling.
Vincenzo Nibali is determined to take the weight of this Vuelta on his shoulders. He has set his Liquigas-Cannondale team to the front to keep the pace high on the climb.
At the back of the race, the rear of the peloton is being torn asunder into small groups.
Katusha and Liquigas' efforts have reduced the leading group to just 40-50 riders.
While one of the major favourites is unlikely to gain big time today, any contender who is feeling the pinch could be exposed on this climb. So far, Igor Anton appears to be still in this group, but the pace is rising.
Vladimir Karpets is at the front again, with his jersey unzipped. Temperatures are extremely high on the Vuelta again today.
As was the case yesterday, Anton is sitting at the very back of the leading group. Even on a brief downhill section, he is unable to move closer to the front.
Dan Martin is also seated near the rear of the group, but he looks considerably more comfortable than Anton.
Alexsandr Dyachenko (Astana) jumps clear of the peloton with 4km to go the summit of the climb, with scarcely a flicker of reaction from Karpets, who maintains a steady pace.
David Moncoutie (Cofidis) has also danced clear of the bunch and set off in lone pursuit of Dyachenko.
Karpets is unconcerned by this move, and keeps tapping out his rhythm behind.
Moncoutie blasts past Dyachenko and presses on alone towards the summit of the climb.
Anton is losing contact with the rear of the peloton, although to his credit he is battling hard and should stay in touch over the summit.
Moncoutie has 24 seconds in hand over the peloton with 2km to go to the summit of the climb, but Katusha and Liquigas will surely pick up the pace again on the run-in to the finish.
Nibali is sitting in third place in the peloton, and betraying few signs of suffering. Sylvain Chavanel remains in the ever-dwindling group.
Moncoutie has 30 seconds over his pursuers as the climb flattens out near the summit.
The irrepressible Karpets is back at the front of the peloton, where Dan Martin has also moved his way back up towards the front.
At the summit of the Alto de Valdepeñas, Moncoutie has a lead of 35 seconds. He has never been the most adept of descenders, however, so it will be interesting to see how much of that advantage Moncoutie can retain ahead of the climb to the finish.
Valerio Agnoli puts in a long turn on the sweeping descent, and stretches the bunch out into a line.
Moncoutie has coped admirably with the descent so far, and is retaining his 30-second advantage.
Descending with his jersey flapping open, Moncoutie is set to hit the foot of the climb with half a minute in hand over the chasers behind.
Karpets has come back to the front and cut Moncoutie's lead to 25 seconds with 2km still to race.
Anton has managed to attach himself to the rear of the red jersey group on the descent, but he will surely struggle on the final climb.
Moncoutie enters the final kilometre with just 15 seconds in hand as the road begins to pitch upwards.
Moncoutie is tackling the 23% slopes and almost grinds to a halt as the bunch engulfs him.
Dani Moreno hits the front with Rodriguez on his wheel, and the Katusha duo have opened out a gap on the steepest section.
Rodriguez rips clear of Moreno and has opened out a sizeable gap as the road flattens out.
Joaquim Rodriguez takes the stage victory ahead of Wout Poels, while Dani Moreno crosses the line in third place.
That trio were a little clear of the main group of favourites, and it appears that Steven Kruijswijk came across the line in 4th.
Correction, it was Bauke Mollema who came home in fourth, ahead of Scarponi, Zubeldia, Fuglsang and Roche, who all lost 8 seconds to Rodriguez.
Nibali came across the line 11 seconds down in 11th, while Bradley Wiggins finished around 20 seconds down.
Overall, Sylvain Chavanel has - just - retained his red jersey. In spite of the time bonus Moreno picked up for 3rd place, he is still 9 seconds off Chavanel's overall lead. Rodriguez lies 3rd overall.
Dan Martin lost 29 seconds on the final kick to the line, and not surprisingly Igor Anton came home towards the back of the main group, almost a minute down.
1 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 4:42:52
2 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:04
3 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:05
4 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:07
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:08
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Team RadioShack 0:00:08
7 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:08
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:08
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:08
10 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:08
General classification after stage 5:
1 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 18:02:34
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:09
3 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:23
4 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:26
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:33
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:36
7 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:00:38
8 Sergio Pardilla Belllón (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:43
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:44
10 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:52
Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage of the Vuelta. We're back with more tomorrow, as the race heads from Úbeda to Córdoba. In the meantime, stayed tuned to Cyclingnews for full results, reports, news and pictures from today's stage.