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10/04 - Stage 5 - Eibar to Aia - 155 km

The route
This is another extremely difficult stage. The riders are facing no less than nine categorized climbs before they cross the finishing line in Aia. The longest ascent is Alto de Urraki, which starts after about 70 km on the bike. The 8.6 km towards the top have an average gradient of nearly 7 %. Being placed in the middle of the stage, it won’t have much of an impact on the final outcome though.

The peloton enters Aia for the first time with 35 km to go. From here, they start on an 18 km lap finishing with the final ascent up Alto de Aia. Upon reaching the top of the climb, the riders turn left to start on another 18 km long lap. The first part of the two laps are the same. However, in Orio, the peloton now turns right instead of continuing straight-out as before. This change of route means that the riders get to face Alto de Aia from a different side. This ascent is 3.5 km long and has an average gradient of 8.7 %. From the top of the climb, there are just 4.2 km to go. The descent is fast but also very technical, especially the last part require good bike handling skills. Let’s hope it stays dry!

The final ascent up towards the finishing line starts with just 1.7 km to go. The riders hit the climb at high speed but it won’t take long before the pace slows down significantly. On a narrow road, the gradients immediately starts to rise up to double digits. It’s extremely important to be well-positioned when starting on the climb. There is simply no space to move up. The climb never eases out. It’s constantly steep and towards the top it almost reaches 30 %!

Upon reaching the top of Alto de Aia for the last time, the riders now turn right. From here, the last 200 meters are straight-out and pretty much flat all the way towards the finishing line.

The favorites
Given the insanely steep gradients on the final climb, naturally, the number one favorite for today has to be Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez. He’s in excellent shape right now and his confidence is huge after winning two stages in a row. It’s a shame for Purito that there are no bonus seconds in this race. This means that he needs to distance his rivals as much as possible before Saturday’s time trial. Luckily for Purito, he couldn’t ask for a better course to do so. In 2010, the Spaniard soloed away on Alto de Aia to win stage 5 of Vuelta al Pais Vasco. I think he will do the same thing today and take his third stage win in the race.

Personally, I’m a fan of seeing the leader’s jersey attacking. Sergio Henao made a courageous attempt on the final climb on stage 4. However, Katusha played the numbers game perfectly and neutralized the Colombian’s attack. Henao is obviously in great condition right now. He has attacked numerous times and the steep final in Aia suits him very well. It will be very difficult to follow Purito but Henao is probably the only rider with a chance to do so. He’s still leading the race overall and he too needs to gain as much time as possible before the final time trial. Henao lost Vuelta al Pais Vasco overall in 2013 against the clock on the last day. He must be very eager to not let history repeats itself this time.

Nairo Quintana has not been as strong as expected this week. Despite the enormous amount of work Movistar has been doing these last four days, the Colombian seems to lack a little strength on the climbs. He had troubles following Henao and Purito on Alto de Antigua on stage 3 and Alto de Aia is even steeper. Unless the two other favorites miss out, I don’t think Quintana will be able to win this one. However, due to his good time trial, he’s still the top favorite for the overall win. Even though he doesn’t win this stage, it will still be of huge importance to gain more time on strong time trialists like Tejay Van Garderen, Simon Spilak, Rui Costa and of course Michael Kwiatkowski.

The outsiders
The fact that there are no bonus seconds in Vuelta al Pais Vasco may come into play today. Saturday’s time trial is very hard. If a strong break of riders out of the GC gets away, the favorites may want to save a little energy and get as fresh as possible into Aia before starting on the final climbs. For good breakaway candidates, look to Rein Taaramae, Mikel Landa, Davide Formolo, Tom-Jelte Slagter, Julian Arredondo, Jelle Vanendert, Philippe Gilbert and Amets Txurruka.

The riders who are not good against the clock know that this is their last chance to win a stage in Vuelta al Pais Vasco. If the breakaway doesn’t have the right constellation of teams, we may see some new teams chasing in the peloton, setting up a Hail Mary in Aia. I’m thinking of pure climbers like Rafal Majka, Alexis Vuillermoz and Thibaut Pinot. Not to forget youngster Simon Yates who has been doing very well so far in the race and sits 10th overall, just 10 seconds down before this stage.

Amongst the GC riders, Michele Scarponi probably has the best chances of success today. At his prime, these kinds of climbs were just up his alley. Now, the Italian is struggling much more but he isn’t far off. Astana is giving Scarponi a rare chance to lead the team and, so far, he has looked very good on the climbs.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv

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