Today’s 5th stage of Spain’s venerated Volta a Catalunya was about as mountainous as a route can be and still not be officially classified a full on ‘mountain stage.’ Starting in El Vendrell and finishing some 206 kilometers (128 miles) later in Tarragona, the route profile of this year’s longest stage had the look of a heart attack victim’s EKG printout, with 3 serious spikes, two of which were rated category 2’s.
Team RadioShack’s Levi Leipheimer stayed where he needed to be all day, finishing with the same time as race leader Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank, with no opportunity, given the course layout, to gain any time on his rival’s 23-second lead. Also maintaining their position in 3rd place on the overall general classification was Lampre’s Michele Scarponi, with the same 23-sec deficit from Contador.
A breakout group of four riders sped away from the peloton just shy of the halfway point and commanded plenty of TV time for their sponsors holding their advantage for nearly 115 kilometers on the main pack. But eventually they were swallowed by the chasing peloton as the sprinter’s teams drove for a bunch sprint. An additional nail in the break’s coffin was the presence of Francesco Masciarelli of Astana. He was only 1:57 down on Contador in the GC and at one point was the virtual leader. Certainly the escapees had a sense of the overwhelming odds against them, but they hung on and were only caught in the final few kilometers.
Yesterday’s stage winner, RadioShack’s Manuel Cardoso, had another good showing coming in 8th place, while Levi came in 17th, but again, so tightly bunched were the riders that you had to get to the 162nd cyclist before you saw a difference in the finishing time. TRS’s Chris Horner is still running 5th, Haimar Zubeldia is still in 15th and Janez Brajkovic hangs on to 16th going into tomorrow’s 185 km stage covering some more good climbs.
Not clear if much time can be gained this coming Saturday. There are two category 2 climbs and a category 1, with a lot of the day spent pedaling uphill, but the last 30 kilometers or so are going downhill and then they level a bit. Though a breakaway has a good chance, there’s plenty of space for the contenders to reform should they separate, so the leaders will be hard pressed to do damage to one another. Of course, as soon as you predict that….
By George Hurst, staff writer