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Vuelta a Espana 2018: Clarke takes Stage 5 as Kwiatkowski loses red

Joe Robinson
29 Aug 2018

EF-Drapac get their first WorldTour win of season as as Molard goes into red on Stage 5 of the Vuelta

Simon Clarke took EF-Drapac's first WorldTour victory of the season as he outsprinted Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing) to take victory in Roquetas de Mar on Stage 5 of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana.

With 6km remaining, De Marchi and Mollema began to lean on Clarke, aware of his fast finish. All three played cat and mouse, almost being caught by a chasing trio led by Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ).

Thankfully for Clarke, they were not caught and the Australian was able to sprint to a second career Vuelta stage win. 

Behind, the peloton rode in five minutes adrift, enough of a time gap to put Molard into the race lead, taking the red jersey from Team Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski.

The stage as it happened

Stage 5 of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana had the whiff of a breakaway about it. It was 188.7km from Granada to Roquetas de Mar, and although a medium mountain stage took the riders on a long descent to the finish.

Along the route were plenty of rolling bumps but only two classified climbs, the Alto de Orgiva and Alto El Marchal, the latter coming with 25km left of the stage. 

Barring disaster, Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) was going to defend his red jersey and the top 10 of General Classification was going to stay the same. Although, with this being the Vuelta, nothing was a given and with the peloton coming in at a sedate pace the race leadership changed hands.

True to the script, a large break of 24 riders formed after 40km of the stage, building a slender lead that was then pegged back by a fractured peloton, hurting from the day's first classified climb. 

Eventually, an aggressive De Marchi and Stephan Rossetto (Cofidis) forged the way for another large group of 25 to go clear, and this time the peloton was happy to let them go.

The break contained your usual mix of teams but riders of note who had escaped included Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott), Mollema and Franco Pellozotti (Bahrain-Merida).

Despite such numbers, the break did not work well together and the gap struggled up to four minutes with 85km remaining. This is when Rossetto and De Marchi attacked causing fractures within the break.

A few more skirmishes later and De Marchi had gone clear again this time with Mollema and Clarke. Their 90 second lead over the chasers looked steady while the peloton seemed resigned to conceding the stage victory for a second consecutive day.

Riders battled to join the trio ahead. David Villella (Astana) gave it a go, as did Floris De Tier (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Molard, all on the lower slopes of the Alto El Marchal. 

Mollema was dropped on the climb after a puncture, but he fought hard and got back on. Good effort but probably to his detriment later on.

The Dutchman even managed to go over the top first, leading De Marchi and Clarke towards the line.

Team Sky's stranglehold on the peloton guided the bunch down the descent and prevented any last-ditch attacks. The chasing trio was losing ground.

It was now a matter of who from De Marchi, Clarke and Mollema would take the victory.

Clarke was the overwhelming favourite for the sprint and with EF-Drapac lacking WorldTour win this season, it was in some ways the Australian's to lose.

The cat and mousing began early with 6km to go. Clarke was being leant on by a tiring De Marchi and savvy Mollema, they knew he finished quickest. 

Behind, Molard was looking likely to take red with the gap still over five minutes to Kwiatkowski. Team Sky seemed in no rush to defend the jersey and pretty happy to hand it over to the Frenchman.

The three leaders kept looking at one another, locked in a game of poker.

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