Richie Porte (Sky) took advantage of a lull after a technical descent to attack for a solo stage 5 win at the Vuelta al País Vasco (Tour of the Basque Country) in Beasain, Spain, on Friday.
Porte’s teammate Sergio Henao defended his overall lead ahead of Saturday’s final-stage time trial.
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was second and Henao was third on the stage.
The peloton faced cold, wet conditions throughout the 166-kilometer voyage from Eibar to Beasain in northern Spain. With 10 rated climbs, including the 1.4km Cat. 2 Alto de Olaberria, which averages 12.1-percent gradient and came just over 5km from the finish, Sky faced a tall task to defend Henao’s leader’s jersey.
After distancing the rest of the day’s long breakaway, Omar Fraile (Caja Rural) led solo for much of the day’s late going. Behind him, a dangerous chase group tried to turn over the general classification, but Rui Costa (Movistar), Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) weren’t able to make their move stick.
“We really pulled hard in the break and then I got a good gap and I thought, ‘let’s see if I can win the stage.’ I had good legs,” said Fraile.
Xabier Zandio and Vasil Kiryienka led the charge for Sky and neutralized the escapees with more than 40km to go. Kiryienka continued to press at the head of the reduced peloton, with Fraile forging a brave, solo assault on the rain-slickened mountain roads around Beasain.
With under 10km to go, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Lampre-Merida, and Orica-GreenEdge positioned themselves near the front of the bunch with an eye toward upsetting the Sky stranglehold.
Fraile carried 17 seconds onto the Olaberria. Behind him, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Peter Weening (Orica) came to the front of the group. But the lone leader pushed his advantage out on the lower slopes of the single-lane climb, carrying 23 seconds with 6.3km to go.
Henao went to the front and upped the pace, however, coming onto Fraile’s wheel with 6km remaining.
“I tried. It wasn’t meant to be, but it was a great day,” said Fraile. “The conditions were very difficult. The snow was almost too much. We’ve tried to give the race a spectacle. We’ve been in the breaks, so we’re content.”
Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel) countered the catch and dug with a sharp attack through an oppressive gallery of Basque fans at the top of the climb. With the road narrowed to the width of a single rider, the move shaved nearly all of the contenders off the front of the race, with Henao and Porte, Quintana, Weening, and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) making the move.
Sánchez dug again as Contador made contact and then went to the front when the road pitched downward, putting his storied descending skills to use and dropping everyone but Henao on the wet, technical descent from Olaberria. With 4km to go, the Spaniard and Colombian were alone at the front, Henao fighting to stay on the 2008 Olympic champion’s wheel.
But with just 3km to go, the chasers made contact and Porte attacked almost immediately. The group looked at one another and the Tasmanian champion of Paris-Nice jumped away to a quick eight-second advantage. Entering the stage third overall, at just 10 seconds, Porte sprinted up the long, narrow finish straight. He pushed all the way through the line, pressing for time on the GC.
Sánchez led the chase through for second, at four seconds, ahead of Henao. Quintana’s second-overall position was safe for the day.
“It was a crazy day. We had a bit of everything: rain, hail, snow and even sun. The team was brilliant today. It was a bit of a surprise to win the stage,” said Porte. “I have good form right now and I am looking forward to doing a good time trial and see what happens. … It’s not over yet. Whatever happens, I’ve had a great season so far. I love this race. It’s one of the most beautiful of the calendar. There are still some very good riders close to me.”
The Tour of the Basque Country wraps up Saturday with the 24km stage 6 individual time trial around Beasain.