Pais Vasco stage 5 shakes up the GC
Julian Alaphilippe is fourth overall ahead of the final day, one that packs eight classified climbs.
Rolling roads, three ascents and a relentless pace made for an action-packed penultimate stage at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, one which saw 13 riders take center stage by booking a place in a breakaway that opened a six-minute advantage. On the tough Elosua Gaina, a sudden surge in pace whittled down the yellow jersey group to just 17 riders, including Quick-Step Floors' Julian Alaphilippe and Enric Mas.
Things calmed down a bit in the downhill and that allowed several riders to come back to the peloton, but on Endola Gaina – a 7km climb averaging 5.1% – the race was on again, and a new series of accelerations on the 16% ramps reduced the gap to the escapees to just one minute, while at the same time poured down lead in many of the riders' legs. Julian – a double stage winner at this edition – was among those who struggled, but thanks to the fantastic and selfless effort of Enric Mas, he didn't concede too much time.
The day's winner emerged from a seven-man group which opened a gap over the top of Azurki Gaina and plunged onto the descent to Eibar. In the sprint, Omar Fraile (Astana) prevailed, beating overall leader Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Jon Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida).
Alaphilippe rolled over the line some two minutes later, helped by the same Mas, and will go into Saturday's stage between Eibar and Arrate in fourth place. The 25-year-old will have around him five Quick-Step Floors teammates, after Ecuadorian Champion Jhonatan Narvaez was forced to stop midway through stage 5 due to fatigue after his crash earlier in the race.
"Today it was very tough. I matched several attacks – one, two, three – but when the fourth came, I began to suffer and got dropped. Fortunately, I had Enric there and he gave everything as we chased the group in the front. He really emptied himself for me in the last 30 kilometers, and I'm grateful for his effort. Tomorrow's stage will be even harder, so it remains to be seen what we can get out of it", said Julian at the end of the 164.7km stage.
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