Despite being quite hilly, stage 5 of the Tour of the Basque Country did not lead to any major changes in the general classification. However, following a small bunch finish and a victorious sprint by Sergio Higuita, David Gaudu lost one position (4th) overall due to the bonus seconds and the places addition The Frenchman is now thirty-two seconds behind the leader Jonas Vingegaard and finds himself in the same time as Mattias Skjelmose, third. On Saturday, the queen stage will establish the final hierarchy of the event.
A most lively start kicked off stage 5 in Basque territory on Friday, from and to Amorebieta. Located after a few kilometres, the climb of Montecalvo hosted some action and the race remained very intense for almost an hour. “It was a crazy stage with these two riders who made the bunch explode”, testified Philippe Mauduit. “As for us, we had decided to take the break if there were enough riders, or to stay alongside David if we thought that the breakaway had no chance. Therefore, when only two guys went, the guys stayed in the peloton. They did well, because when you see the outcome of the race, we can have no regret”. After fighting for a long time to make a proper gap, Rémi Cavagna and Mattia Cattaneo (Soudal-Quick Step) led the way together for most of the day, while being well controlled by different teams interested in winning the stage. Their maximum lead of four and a half minutes was gradually reduced in the second part of the course. They were able to reach the first intermediate sprint, located forty kilometres from the finish, in the lead, but were caught before the second, located with seventeen kilometres left to go.
“I’m making efforts that will be useful for the future, while helping the team”, Romain Grégoire
In these two crucial points, the Groupama-FDJ team proved very attentive. “We relied on Romain to win bonus seconds and prevent our direct opponents from getting some,” explained Philippe Mauduit. “David can do and win sprints uphill, but it’s surely more difficult on the flat. We had therefore asked Romain to fight for them, and he fulfilled his mission perfectly. This proves that he is getting better and better after his crash, because the peloton was already quite reduced in this last hour of racing”. Third in the first sprint behind the two fugitives, then winner of the second ahead of Skjelmose and Vingegaard, the 20-year-old Frenchman showed a growing shape on Friday. “It’s going better, the feelings are improving day by day following the crash on Tuesday, even if it is still not the best”, he said later. “I’m making efforts that will be useful for the future, while helping the team. My role is usually to be there with David in the last hour of racing. Obviously, given the level here, it’s difficult to be up there at that point when you’re not 100%, but I do my best to be useful for the team. There is a big day left tomorrow with the queen stage. I hope it will be even better to help him as long as possible”.
“We will have to be ready right from the start”, Philippe Mauduit
In this fifth stage, the GC contenders did not manage to make a difference between themselves in the two steep “hills” of the final. “I think the bunch was so tired, so were the best ones, and no one had enough freshness to attack”, analysed Philippe. “Then, Soudal-Quick Step pulled in the last kilometres for a sprint finish”. Twenty-two riders eventually finished for the win. Sergio Higuita took victory while David Gaudu did not find the opening to do his sprint. Seventeenth of the day, the Breton lost his third place overall to Mattias Skjelmose, credited with six bonus seconds on Friday. The Frenchman and the Dane are now both thirty-two seconds behind Jonas Vingegaard, but the addition of positions gave the advantage to the Scandinavian. Yet, everything remains to be done on this Tour of the Basque Country, with the queen stage around Eibar on Saturday that should offer a great battle. “It’s not such a bad day, and there’s still tomorrow,” concluded Philippe. “The guys are still very motivated and determined. There are several possibilities tomorrow, but what is for sure is that we will have to be ready right from the start”.