Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain – no matter where the Vuelta a Espana goes, Columbia-HTC continue to rule supreme, with Andre Greipel taking the team’s third straight win and the overall lead on stage five.
Greipel’s victory in Liege on Tuesday had been overshadowed by the major pile-up just a couple of kilometres before the finish. But this time round there were no such incidents to cast a pall over the German’s second win.
Even though stage two winner Gerald Ciolek crashed in the final dash for the line, this time round Greipel still had to fend off sprinters of the calibre of Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).
Boonen briefly looked as if he would get it with an all-out charge for the line, but instead Greipel the green-clad winning machine dodged past him in the last 75 metres to take the stage by a bike length.
Columbia-HTC’s third successive victory in the Tour of Spain also earned Greipel the overall lead as well as the top spot in the points classification.
But if Greipel’s win at Liege – through no fault of his own – had barely been more than a formality, in the race’s first stage back on Spanish soil, it was a very different story.
Although stage five was fairly flat, a vicious little climb some six kilometres from the finish lined out the bunch and saw Belgian Classics star Philippe Gilbert (Silence-Lotto) make a gutsy lone bid for freedom.
Taking some prodigious risks on the dangerous descent enabled Gilbert to stretch his lead to over 20 seconds with six kilometres.
But behind an initially chaotic chase started to take shape and as the finish town of Vinaros loomed in the distance, Gilbert was reeled in.
Only the technical run-in could have stopped a bunch sprint at that point, and Columbia-HTC combined with Quick Step to ensure their fastmen had a chance.
Boonen was ideally placed, and Greipel had no final lead-out man, but it made no difference. The German sprinter is on top form and he had no problems seeing off Boonen and Bennati for Columbia-HTC’s umpteenth Grand Tour stage win of the season.
Friday’s stage is hilly but not too technical, and Greipel should be able to hold the leader’s jersey at least until Saturday’s time trial stage in Valencia. After that, the Vuelta hits the mountains, and a very different race begins.
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Stage five, Tarragona-Vinaros, 174km
1. Andre Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC in 4-27-54
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
4. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream
5. William Bonnet (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom
6. Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence-Lotto
7. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
8. Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil
9. Davide Vigano (Ita) Fuji-Servetto
10. Francisco Jose Pacheco (Spa) Contentpolis-Ampo all same time.
15. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo at 7sec
Overall classification after stage five
1. Andre Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC in 19-40-23
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step at 6sec
3. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas at 17sec
4. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 21sec
5. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank at 27sec
6. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank at 33sec
7. William Bonnet (Fra) Bbox Bouygues Telecom at 34sec
8. Dominique Rollin (Can) Cervelo at 38sec
9. Bert Grabsch (Ger) Columbia-HTC at 38sec
10. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-NGC at 38sec
12. Roger Hammond (GB) Cervelo at 40sec
Greipel wins his second stage of the 2009 Vuelta, and clinches the race lead
five photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage four: Greipel wins in Liege
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three: Henderson takes surprise win
Vuelta a Espana 2009, stage three photo gallery, by Graham Watson
Stage two: Ciolek takes first sprint stage, Hammond third
Stage two photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage one: Cancellara wins Vuelta opener
Vuelta a Espana 2009, stage one photo gallery by Graham Watson
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Cycling Weekly’s full coverage, the hub
Vuelta a Espana 2009: Who will win?
Vinokourov back with Astana for the Vuelta
Britain and Ireland well represented in Vuelta
2009 Vuelta route favours climbers
Cycling Weekly’s Rider Profiles: Index