Having started the day with the plan of delivering Niccolò Bonifazio to stage 5 success at the Vuelta a Espana, Trek-Segafredo changed track and backed Fabio Felline in the finale with the Italian coming close to a debut victory at grand tour level.
With a frenetic finale that involved several crashes and attacks on the technical run in, Felline explained that after hard work from the team, the plan was almost derailed.
"Everything was perfect until the last two to three kilometers when Gilbert and Clarke attacked," said Felline. "In the last 500 meters I was blocked, I was on the right as Gilbert came backward and lost some positions, but maybe if I were on the left I would be in the crash, and it could have been bad for me."
Despite the obstacle, Felline was able to open up his sprint and add to his second place finishes from the 2012, 2013, and 2015 Giro d'Italia's
"Meersman was strong. For me, if we had started the sprint together we would have had a good tête-à-tête, but since I started the sprint 350 meters behind, it was impossible to pass him," Felline said. "But a big thank you to the team because every day they work so hard to arrive to the sprint."
Felline broke his nose and fractured his skull in the neutral zone at Amstel Gold Race, making his comeback to racing at the Italian nationals. He rode just one stage race prior to the Vuelta, the Tour de Pologne where he finished second overall. Having shown his form on stage 5, Felline added "we will see the next day" for a win.
Sports director Dirk Demol explained that with Bonifazio having an off day, the team decided to back the 26-year-old and was satisfied with the day's racing.
"The plan was to help Niccolo again for the sprint, but during the race there was a lot of bad weather, and the final had a few uphills, so we kept Fabio fresh in case Niccolo did not have the legs to pass over the last bump," Demol said. "But Niccolo had said already before, with 50kms to go, that he did not feel so good. So then we decided to go for Fabio.
"Riccardo (Zoidl) had a crash, but he finished and I hope it is not too bad. But in general the team did well, and we didn't have to make huge efforts. It's just a pity that we missed it by one place, but to be honest, I am satisfied with that."
Vuelta a Espana - Stage 5 Video highlights
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