Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez attacked with a little over a kilometre to go in a tough finale to win Stage 5 of the 2013 Tirreno-Adriatico in Chieti this afternoon. Blanco's Bauke Mollema and Alberto-Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff crossed the line around ten seconds later to finish second and third, respectively. Chris Froome of Team Sky was right behind them, however, and with overnight leader Michal Kwiatowski of Omega Pharma-Quick Step dropped on that final climb, he takes over the race lead by around 20 seconds from Contador and last year's winner, Vincenco Nibali of Astana.
With two stages left, the second of those being a 9.2 kilometre time trial that favours Froome, he is in a strong position to follow up last month's Tour of Oman victory with a second stage race win, although the parcours tomorrow's Stage 6 is sprinkled with some short but deceptively tough climbs which should provide plenty of opportunities for attacks.
"“Every day we come in with a pretty solid plan and it seems to keep coming off," said new race leader Froome. "That’s not a position you find yourself in too often so it’s a really cool feeling to be part of a team like this who can go out and not only stick to the plan but get a result out of it too.
Reflecting on today's finale, he said:“I had heard [Kwiatkowski] was slipping back which did motivate me a little bit more, but to be honest I was already going full gas.
“The team took it up with about 45-50km to go on the last couple of climbs and really ripped it apart. We put a lot of pressure on the leader’s jersey and I think it paid off at the end of the stage as he eventually cracked on that final climb and I was able to get a gap over him.
“It’s a great position to be in – defending. I’d rather be doing that then trying to gain time over some one. But tomorrow I’m expecting them to throw everything at us. I think the weather is going to take a turn for the worst too. The course is up and down all day so it’s not going to be easy for us.”
Stage winner Rodriguez, whose Katusha team only won back its top flight status last month after it was initially refused registration by the UCI Licence Commission and took the issue to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, said: “I’m very happy for this performance, it was very important both for me and for the team, since it’s the first in a World Tour race.
"I remember very well the final part of this stage and its incredibly tough stretch. We were very careful from the beginning to the end, because we knew it was very difficult to win here in Chieti: everybody was expecting something from me, they know these finals are my speciality.
Looking ahead to the penultimate stage of the race, he said: "Tomorrow there will be another long, demanding stage: we’re not fighting anymore to win the final classification, but we will try to take a good result anyways, also because my teammates are in a great shape.
"We should put one of us in the breakaway, then we will attempt something, we have nothing to lose”.
The finale of today's 230 kilometre stage from Chieti featured two tough climbs, the first of which, crested 4.6 kilometres from the finish line in Chieti, was also the second of today's intermediate sprint points, giving an opportunity for those towards the top of the GC to aim for bonus seconds.
Lampre-ISD's Damiano Cunego was around a minute ahead of the pursuing group as he hit that penultimate ascent, but he ran out of energy of as the road headed uphill and was quickly caught and passed by the men vying for the win.
Cunego and RadioShack-Leopard's Stijn Devolder had been among a small group of riders to get away early on and the escapees were allowed to build up a lead of several minutes over the peloton, where Team Sky was again setting the pace.
By the second of the day's big climbs, the Passo Lanciano, crested around 40 kilometres out, Cunego was leading on his own, but the group, reduced to arounds 30 riders on that ascent, was eating into his advantage, which had been cut to about a minute by the foot of the descent, and his lead would hover around that point until that penultimate climb.
On the way down, Peter Sagan rejoined the group. The Slovak had won last year's stage to Chieti ahead of then Liquigas Cannondale team mate Vincenzo Nibali, who came third after looking as though he might take the victory, a finishing order that denied the Italian some potentially valuable bonus seconds, although he would in any event go on and win the race.
Today, however, Sagan lost contact with what was becoming an increasingly small lead group on that penultimate climb, with Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran again doing a huge amount of work on behalf of Froome.
Ahead of that intermediate sprint, Contador, together with Saxo-Tinkoff team mate Roman Kreuziger, attacked to try and pick up those three bonus seconds on offer, and the Spaniard crossed the line first ahead of Nibali and Froome who received two and one seconds, respectively.
Kreuziguer and Movistar's Andrey Amador would attack on the descent to lead the way onto the final climb where they quickly found themsleves back in the group, and no-one had a response when Rodriguez launched his attack on a finish that could have been tailor-made for him.
Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 5 result 1 Joaquim Rodriguez Katusha 06:06:43 2 Bauke Mollema Blanco Pro Cycling Team 00:00:08 3 Alberto Contador Team Saxo-Tinkoff 4 Mauro Santambrogio Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 5 Christopher Horner RadioShack Leopard 6 Christopher Froome Sky Procycling 7 Vincenzo Nibali Astana Pro Team 00:00:17 8 Przemyslaw Niemiec Lampre-Merida 00:00:22 9 Roman Kreuziger Team Saxo-Tinkoff 10 Daniel Martin Garmin-Sharp 00:00:28 11 Andrey Amador Movistar Team 00:00:31 12 Sergio Henao Sky Procycling 00:00:35 13 Rigoberto Uran Sky Procycling 14 Domenico Pozzovivo AG2R La Mondiale 15 Michal Kwiatkowski Omega Pharma-Quick Step 16 Daniel Moreno Katusha 00:00:46 17 Rinaldo Nocentini AG2R La Mondiale 00:00:51 18 Wouter Poels Vacansoleil-DCM 00:01:09 19 José Mendes Team NetApp-Endura 20 Matteo Rabottini Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 00:01:17 Overall standings after Stage 5 1 Christopher Froome Sky Procycling 22:11:53 2 Alberto Contador Team Saxo-Tinkoff 00:00:20 3 Vincenzo Nibali Astana Pro Team 4 Michal Kwiatkowski Omega Pharma-Quick Step 00:00:24 5 Christopher Horner RadioShack Leopard 00:00:37 6 Mauro Santambrogio Vini Fantini-Selle Italia 00:00:52 7 Joaquim Rodriguez Katusha 00:00:55 8 Rigoberto Uran Sky Procycling 00:00:57 9 Roman Kreuziger Team Saxo-Tinkoff 00:01:27 10 Sergio Luis Henao Sky Procycling 00:01:51
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.