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After a big crash had split the field, Meersman benefited from a great lead-out from Stybar to beat Felline and Reza in the sprint on stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana; Atapuma avoided the tumble and retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti

DARWIN ATAPUMA

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DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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FABIO FELLINE

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GIANNI MEERSMAN

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KEVIN REZA

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KEVIN VAN IMPE

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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24.08.2016 @ 18:26 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) confirmed that he is one of the fastest riders in the Vuelta a Espana by continuing his dominance of the bunch sprints by coming out on top in the tricky fifth stage. Great teamwork allowed him to avoid a big crash that left just 10-15 riders to sprint it out for the win and after a perfect lead-out from Zdenek Stybar, he easily held off Fabio Felline (Trek) and Kevin Reza (FDJ) to take the second grand tour stage win of his career. Darwin Atapuma (BMC) avoided the tumble and retained the lead.

 

Less than two months ago, Gianni Meersman’s WorldTour career seemed to be in danger. The Belgian is without a contract for 2017 and with poor results for more than a year, it looked like it could be difficult to find a new home.

 

However, Meeersman has managed to turn everything around in the last few weeks. It all started at the Tour de Wallonie where he was close to the overall victory and several stage wins. Later he went on to wear the leader’s jersey for a stage in the Vuelta a Burgos and that made him confident that he could break his long drought at the Vuelta a Espana where he is the protected Etixx-QuickStep sprinter.

 

Despite his good form, Meersman could probably not have imagined that he would get this kind of start of the Spanish grand tour. A fantastic lead-out set him up for his first grand tour victory on stage 2 and today he grabbed his second chance to perfection by winning the second sprint of the race.

 

Again the foundations were laid by splendid teamwork as his teammates did a great job to keep him near the front. That turned out to be crucial as a big crash split the field in the finale and left just 10-15 riders to battle it out. Again the team did everything perfectly as Zdenek Stybar did the best possible lead-out and then Meersman finished it off with a strong sprint.

 

The drama came as the conclusion of a steady day that had been dominated by the lone escapee of Tiago Machado (Katusha). The Portuguese was brought back with 14km to go, just as the fight for position was starting for the very technical, slightly uphill finale. On the wide road, Giant-Alpecin, Bora-Argon 18 and Orica-BikeExchange lined up next to them in the hectic battle to stay out of trouble.

 

Michal Golas took a huge turn for Sky before Lotto Soudal took charge with Adam Hansen. Then Tinkoff and Bora-Argon took over with Bartosz Huzarski doing a massive job.

 

There was plenty of room on the big road as Tinkoff took control with 8km to where Daniele Bennati took a turn with Alberto Contador on his wheel. The Italian was impressive and stayed on the front until only 5km remained.

 

Riders started to sit up as the peloton climbed with Michal Golas and Michal Kwiatkowski setting the pace for Sky. Hansen again took over for Lotto Soudal and then Jose Joaquin Rojas took a huge turn for Movistar.

 

As they hit the technical finale, Sky took control with Kwiatkowski and Peter Kennaugh but they couldn’t respond when Philippe Gilbert (BMC) and Simon Clarke (Cannondale) attacked. The latter briefly dropped his companion but the pair was back together with 2km to go.

 

The chase got disrupted by a first crash which involved Steven Kruijswijk (Giant-Alpecin) but things got organized when Giant-Alpecin hit the front with two riders. He kept the two attackers under control even though they worked well together.

 

As they hit the flamme rouge, Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) attacked but he had the rest of the peloton in tow when he closed the gap to the two leaders. Clarke kept riding on the front and then Gilbert took over as they went through the final turn.

 

That’s when a big crash happened, bringing down riders like Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin), Tony Hurel (Direct Energie) and Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff). That left just a small group of 10-15 riders to battle it out for the stage win and it was Stybar who hit the front with Meersman on his wheel.

 

The Czech did a perfect lead-out and Meersman then launched his sprint with 200m to go. Fabio Felline and Kevin Reza were on his wheel but could come around and the Belgian could celebrate his second win, with Felline taking second and Reza third.

 

Due to the crash, most of the time differences were neutralized and so Darwin Atapuma retained his 28-second advantage over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). He faces a more difficult test on stage 6 which is a very lumpy affair. After a relatively flat first half, the terrain gets much hillier in the second half where there’s a category 2 climb which summit with 47.3km to go. Then there are another two uncategorized climbs in a finale with no flat roads, meaning that it is likely to be another stage for a breakaway or a reduced bunch sprint.

 

One for the sprinters

After two days for the climbers, the sprinters were expected to come to the fore on stage 5 which brought the riders over 171.3km from Viviero to Lugo. After a flat first half, the riders tackled a long, easy category 3 climb whose summit came with 52.5km to go. From there, it was a flat run to the finish where the riders faced a slightly uphill and pretty technical finale.

 

Lluis Mas (Caja Rural), who crashed on the way down the mountain after yesterday’s stage and sustained a hip injury, was a non-started when the peloton gathered the Viviero. For the first time in this year’s race, rain was falling as they headed out through the neutral zone and unsurprisingly, he breakaway established right from the start. Everyone knew that the stage was for sprinters and so Tiago Machado (Katusha) and Julien Morice (Direct Energie) got a gap of 22 seconds after only a few minutes of riding. It grew to 1.07 after 6km of racing, to 3.42 after 16km and 4.30 at the 21km mark.

 

Trek hit the front

When the gap had reached 5.30, BMC hit the front and started to stabilize the situation. After the first hour during which the riders had covered 42.6km, they had already reduced the gap to 4.40, and so they again slowed down. Hence, the gap reached a maximum of 5.45 after 50km of racing

 

Despite the quiet situation, Murilo Fischer (FDJ) became the fifth rider to leave the race while Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) was involved in a small crash. At the same time came Trek forcame to the fore ward to help BMC, hoping that Niccolo Bonifazio could win the stage. Julien Bernard (Trek) and Silvan Dillier (BMC) shared the work but the gap was still growing and with 100km to go, it had reached 6.40.

 

BMC in control

As they hit a small climb, Morice was clearly suffering and as a consequence, the gap started to come down. While Dillier and Machado slowly paced the peloton in the wet conditions, the advantage dropped to 5.00 as they hit the final 90km.

 

Apparently, Trek refused to do all the work for the sprint teams and so Bernard soon disappeared from the front. Hence, all the work was suddenly left to Dillier but he didn’t slow down at all. In fact, he brought the gap down to around four minutes before his teammate Tejay van Garderen took over. The American did the work the next 10km and reduced the gap to only 3.15.

 

Machado takes off

While Dylan Teuns took over the pace-setting for BMC, Machado left Morice behind as they went through the feed zone. The Portuguese had been waiting for his companion on every climb and finally had enough.

 

While the peloton slowed down through the feed zone, Machado increased his advantage to 4.05 and won the intermediate sprint in the process. Morice crossed the line in second while Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) was attentive and picked up the final point.

 

The chase gets organized

With a little less than 70km to go, Machado had pushed the gap out to 5.10 and while the sun finally came out, the sprint teams finally reacted. Martin Velits (Etixx-QuickStep) and Bernard came to the fore to share the work with Teuns.

 

Machado hit the only climb with an advantage of 5.10 and did well to keep it stable even though Giant-Alpecin were now also contributing to the chase with Sindre Lunke. They brought Morice back 5km from the top of the climb.

 

De Gendt scores KOM points

Machado climbed very well and had pushed the gap out to 5.25 when he crested the summit with 52km to go. Meanwhile, Lunke did almost all the work in the peloton until Maxime Monfort led his Lotto Soudal teammates Thomas De Gendt out for the KOM sprint. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) were also in the mix but the Belgian was clearly the fastest, easily holding off Fraile who took third place.

 

De Gendt decided to press on with a solo attack but it was not easy to stay away as Lunke, Teuns, Bernard and Velits went full gas as soon as they had crested the summit. Hence, he soon realized that it was an impossible mission and he decided to wait for the peloton.

 

The gap melts away

With 45km to go, the sprint teams still had to close a gap of almost five minutes and so Trek added more firepower to the chase with Fumy Beppu. With four teams riding full gas, the gap melted away and it was down to 2.45 when they hit the final 40km.

 

With 35km to go, the gap had dropped to just 1.40 and so the situation was under control for BMC that stopped their work. Beppu also decided to save energy for the lead-out and so it was left to Lunke, Bernard and Velits to continue the pace-setting.

 

Machado is caught

The three sprint teams didn’t want to catch Machado too early and so they slowed down, keeping the gap at around 1.30 for a while. With 20km to go, Bernard, Lunke and Velits upped the pace again and so the gap had dropped to 40 seconds with 15km to go.

 

The fight for position got intense when Tinkoff and Orica-BikeExchange lined out their troops next to the three hard-working chasers. Movistar and Sky also came to the fore and so Velits, Lunke and Bernard could end their day.Sky and Movistar took control with David Lopez and Imanol Erviti and they brought Machado back with 14km to go, setting the scene for the dramatic bunch sprint.

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