EF-Drapac’s Simon Clarke came out on top in a three-man sprint to win the 188.7km fifth stage of the Vuelta a Espana in Roquetas de Mar today.
The Australian completed the race in 4:36:07, beating Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema and BMC Racing’s Alessandro De Marchi in the last stretch.
Groupama-FDJ’s Rudy Molard however was the biggest winner of the stage, his sixth place putting him into the leader’s red jersey.
The Frenchman has accumulated a general classification time of 18:27:20, a minute ahead of Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
The race was relatively fast over the first 50km, with no break able to stick. Several attacks were launched, but none maintained.
The field finally fractured when Stéphane Rossetto broke away. He was soon joined by De Marchi at the head of affairs.
Valerio Conti, Floris de Tier, Lukas Pöstlberger, Maxime Monfort and Molard then also latched onto the front pair. More riders surged across to the leading bunch, which had grown to 25 about 68km in.
Over the course of the next 43km their lead grew to five-and-a-half minutes.
De Marchi put in a solo effort with less than 70km to go and before a descent towards the base of the day’s key challenge, the Alto El Marchal.
At this point the Team Sky-led peloton, containing red jersey wearer Kwiatkowski, was six minutes back.
With 54km left, Clarke and Mollema managed to bridge the gap to De Marchi at the front.
Approaching the foot of Alto El Marchal, De Marchi, Clarke and Mollema held a one-minute-45-second lead over the chasing bunch, which started to fragment.
The trio held a steady pace at the front, while Molard, in the chasing group, was the virtual race leader with 35km remaining.
Mollema, De Marchi and Clarke, with just less than 6km left until the summit of Alto El Marchal, had a lead of 57 seconds over the chasing group of Molard, Davide Villella and De Tier.
Over the top of Alto El Marchal and with about 26km left, Mollema, De Marchi and Clarke held a 45-second lead over the following trio.
Molard had a five-minute-15-second lead over the peloton, containing Kwiatkowski, with 21km left. If he could keep his lead over three minutes and 46 seconds he would take the red jersey at the end of the stage.
The Frenchman, however, began to show signs of fatigue with 10km left and fell to one minute and 20 seconds behind the leading trio. But he still held a four-minutes-50-seconds lead over Kwaitkowski with 4km left.
At the head of the race, Clarke launched his first attack with 3km remaining, but Mollema and De Marchi were quick to respond.
The leading three played a game of cat and mouse in the closing kilometres, which reduced their lead over Molard, De Tier and Villella to 32 seconds.
Their lead dropped to 15 seconds before De Marchi took control in the final kilometre. He led the sprint, but it was Clarke who managed to pull around him and take the spoils at the end.
Mollema also rounded De Marchi to come second, while Molard’s sixth place ensured he took hold of the leader’s jersey, still just over a minute ahead of Kwiatkowski.
“It’s just amazing. I worked so hard since I last won a stage here and I just couldn’t repeat it,” Clarke said afterwards. “It has taken me so long to get back there and I now have my stars aligned.
“Even today I wasn’t sure it was possible. I knew I had good legs, but when you have a breakaway with so many riders the cooperation is never very good.
“As we saw, the winning move came on the descent. It was a tricky one to pick. I knew I had good legs and I just had to pray that the moves I was doing were the right ones.