Meersman, unstoppable in the Vuelta a España sprints
The Belgian added another win to the one on Sunday and reclaimed the green jersey.
Founded by the Celts in honor of their god Lugus and later conquered by the Romans, Lugo has been added in recent years on UNESCO's World Heritage Site list as the only town in the world completely surrounded by intact Roman walls, all dating back to Late Antiquity. Integrating beauty and elegance in its architecture, Lugo was prepared on Wednesday afternoon for a different kind of visit than the ones of two millenniums ago, welcoming the Vuelta a España riders for the first time in a decade, with a finish spiced up by a short unclassified climb, averaging 3.2% over 3 kilometers.
With just two riders in the break – Tiago Machado (Katusha) and Julien Morice (Direct Energie) – the peloton was more concerned about the rain and slippery roads which led to a slow race in the first half of stage 5, when the leaders were allowed to go six minutes clear. Once the sun began to smile again to the riders, the chasers picked up the pace, among those to move at the front being also Etixx – Quick-Step's Martin Velits, who worked hard to ensure everything comes back together before the last ten kilometers.
On the uphill section of the old town, Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Philippe Gilbert (BMC) attacked and opened a 10-second gap, but despite their combined efforts they were soon reeled in, just before the final kilometer. The narrow road and nervous fight to find a good position after that small climb led to a crash in the peloton, which was split by the incident, leaving only a dozen riders in the mix for the win. Piloted by an incredible Zdenek Stybar, who provided a superb lead-out, Gianni Meersman out-gunned Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) and Kevin Reza (FDJ), sprinting to his second victory in just four days and Etixx – Quick-Step's 44th of the year.
First Belgian rider to notch up two stages at a single Vuelta a España edition since 2012, Gianni was over the moon at the end of the day: "It was already a dream come true to claim my maiden Grand Tour victory on Sunday, but to double up today leaves me without any more words. I felt really good, was confident in my legs and focused on what I had to do, and now I'm very happy to collect another win for the team and myself."
"The race got off to a slow start, but things heated up in the last hour, when the speed increased in the peloton. The boys did a fantastic job today, they were again incredible and had trust in me, which was very important. You could see Zdenek's lead-out was that of a man who knows his sprinter can win and it really made the difference in the final kilometer", concluded Gianni, who seized the green jersey following his success in Lugo.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele