Stage 5 was a near replica of Strade Bianchi, just over a week ago. A flat run into a lumpy final circuit which the peloton would complete 3.5 times meant it would definitely be an attritional day in store for the riders, even before factoring in the damp winter-like conditions. The nature of the terrain meant today’s stage could be solid practice for the upcoming successive monument races in Italy, France and Belgium. I came across a meme on Instagram by Sporza.be (if you want to check it out) that gagged about it being an exact replica of the aforementioned Strade Bianchi, because not only was the course reminiscent of the gravel race, but stage 5 terrain instigated an identical front group in the last 1/3rd of the race, including Tadej Pogacar, Wout Van Aert, Egan Bernal, and of course Mathieu Van Der Poel, could he continue his dominance of late in the cold conditions presented on stage 5.
The start of the stage was rapid, with it being reported on Twitter that the peloton began with an average speed of 57kmh for the initial 30 km of the 205km stage. Given they aren’t on the flat open roads of the UAE with a nice cross tailwind for that time, that is outrageously quick on the grippy roads of Europe.
As predicted, the peloton quickly whittled down making a select group of just the main contenders pressing on over the sharp, steep and punchy climbs in and around Castelfidardo. If you think back, the scenery, weather and terrain reminded me of the long-awaited stage win of Peter Sagan in the 2020 Giro D’Italia. With 50km to go and not long after the initial split of the main protagonists were reeled in by the group of extended favourites, like that of João Almeida, Mathieu Van Der Poel, drifted off the front whilst holding a rice cake packet in his mouth. Clearly, he wasn’t in Velon’s well known “red-zone” when he lit it up at the front of the race between the two seas.
He quickly gained 1 minute and 20 seconds within 10 km and slowly extended this to 2 minutes by the time he had spent 20 km up the road. It was evidently a cold day though as Julian Alaphilippe and Jakob Fuglsang, two other favourites, had called it day and were found in the main peloton wrapped head to toe in winter attire. Whilst riders at the front like Van Der Poel and Wout Van Aert were showing bare skin on their arms and legs, clearly showing they cope with the cold conditions. The latter began to suffer though, with 34km remaining, as he looked like he was going to chatter his teeth into the abyssIMO.
Van Der Poel pressing on in Zone 3-Sweetspot was keeping himself warm with the effort, evidently staying on top of his nutrition so he could continue to produce energy to keep his muscles and core temperature at high performance level. The spectacular Dutchman gained another 47 seconds increasing his gap to 2m47 with 20 km to go, and looked clear to get the stage win, in very similar style to that of his win in the Binckbank Tour last September.
But with 6km to go Mathieu appeared to start slowing up, maybe a bit of mal-fuelling or just simply cramping up because of the cold rainy conditions. This enticed young Tadej Pogacar to break away from the chasing group of leaders to hunt down the fatigued Van Der Poel. The Slovenian brought back the Dutchman to within 20 seconds from over 1m30 in the last several kilometres. The Slovenian is the dominant stage race rider in 2021, much like Remco was in 2020. Pogacar is on for 100% record as it stands, with a massive lead over Wout van Aert, and only a sprint and short Time trial remaining in the Tirreno Adriatico.
In the end, however, the inspiring Dutchman won the stage by just over a few hundred metres, collapsing over the line having spent everything to just stay warm during the stage, which he said is the reason he attacked in the first place. Something I experience myself in very similar circumstances and can attest to. IMO – Attacking when you are cold is the perfect way to succeed in the weather conditions presented to the riders on today’s stage 5. It helps keep the blood pumping, the muscles warm and the brain focussed on the effort at hand rather than “how cold I am?” In many cases the rider who attacks in these cold conditions and takes the race by the horns will often come out on top, to someone who say was more conservative, like Wout Van Aert was today. The Belgian clearly was freezing and the cold getting into his chest and just shows how inefficient riding in the wheels is on a day like today, in Italy. It, was great to see and no surprise really that Mathieu attacked with 50km to go as the weather worsened. And makes me think the websites and other well-known documentors of the cycling world used “I attacked just to remain warm” as their key headline. Like there was another reason for his attack…
The results were:
1st Mathieu Van der Poel
2nd Tadej Pogacar
3rd Wout Van Aert
4th Fabio Felline
5th Egan Bernal
6th Davide Formolo
7th Tim Wellens
8th Alessandro De Marchi
9th Mikel Landa
10th Matteo Fabbro