Stage 5 of the Vuelta Pais Vasco was a nasty one. It went from Eibar to Aia and was 155km long. With nine categorized climbs, including three leg breaking ascents up Aia with gradients reaching as steep as 28%.
The race got off to an exciting start with a massive breakaway getting away. The attacks kept coming and the breakaway just kept getting bigger and bigger. It ballooned to around 30 guys with some notable riders like Rohan Dennis (BMC), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), Danielson (Cannondale-Garmin), and Julien Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) Most of the teams had at least two guys in the break and they were all pushing hard on the front to eventually create a gap of 4 minutes.
At 40k to go the gap was at 3 minutes and started to fall dramatically as the peloton was able to make up a lot of time on a not very technical descent. The peloton further ramped up the pace by chasing down an attack made by BMC’s Philippe Gilbert and the gap was reduced to 2 minutes. With the peloton rapidly gaining speed Astana’s Taaramae attacked at the base of Aia. Suffering over a 20% grade he was able to get a small gap on the chase group over the top of the climb. It wasn’t long after Lotto’s Wellens and Gallopin lurched forward on the descent and bridged across with Landa and Danielson.
Behind, Michael Kwiatkoski did an impressive effort to bridge across to his teammate Tony Martin on the same climb. He allowed Tony to pulling him closer to race leaders but eventually ran out of fuel on Aia’s steep ascent.
The five leaders rode together until the bottom of the final climb where Danielson attacked and Gallopin and Taaramäe were dropped. Danielson lead the group up the lung busting ascent. Wellens launched an attack within the last hundred meters but ultimately it was Landau’s impressive counter attack that allowed him to ride clear to the win.
Today I was fortunate enough to ride in the the Cannondale-Garmin team car. Yesterday I didn’t ride in car 2 (the one that follows the breakaway) and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice. I don’t think I ever realized how fast these guys actually go until I was in the passenger sear flying around corners like rally cars do. I was able to watch the race from the t.v. in the car and in front of me. Some of the climbs were so steep that they did not allow us to go up it, only the Mavic neutral support vehicle. Watching the directors in action, listening to the race radio and trying not to get car sick or show how absolutely terrified I was. It was pretty surreal to be out there in the thick of it. While it might not have been perfect,today was a good day.