Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) won an uphill sprint in the Giro d’italia to take stage five victory on the Viggiano ahead of Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing).
Heavy rain on the descent of the Viggiano, after the peloton crested it for the first time, and a crash in the bunch caused a split.
The leading GC contender stayed safely within the leading group however, with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Nico Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) among those to launch attacks.
Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), who held on to the maglia rosa brought the race together for an uphill sprint though.
And when Ulissi accelerated, his rivals had no answer for his stunning burst of pace, the Italian winning by so much he was given a one-second lead in the results.
A break of 11 riders went clear early on, with sprinters Ben Swift (Team Sky) and Elia Viviani (Cannondale) both setting off in pursuit of points for the red jersey.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr), who held the maglia rosso after his stage four win and Marcel Kittel’s withdrawal due to illness, stayed in the bunch however – seemingly happy to play the long game as far as racking up points goes.
Swift and Viviani were joined up the road by Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), Bjorn Thurau (Europcar), Tosh van der Sande and Kenny de Haes (Lotto-Belisol), Yonathan Monsalve (Neri Sottoli), Tony Hurel (Europcar), Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela), Miguel Angel Rubiano (Colombia), Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp).
In the break, Orica-GreenEDGE took charge on the front – keen to ensure the sizable break did not earn too much of a gap at the front.
With the lead holding around the three-minute mark for much of the race, the break worked well together throughout with hostilities reserved only for the intermediate sprint and the top of the climbs.
Swift led the way through the first intermediate sprint, beating Viviani to the maximum ten points on offer, but it was the Italian who moved into the virtual red jersey.
The wind remained high and rain fell again, for the fifth stage running, with Yukiya Arashiro suffering a nasty spot of road rash after an inadvertent sit-down.
A steady pace ensued in the bunch, perhaps mindful of the conditions, but the escapees stayed within a manageable distance as they climbed the first category-three ascent of this year’s race.
Thurau led the sprint for King of the Mountains points out, but it was Rubiano – the only one of the 11 escapees to already have picked up points in Ireland – who took the maximum seven at the top, cutting the lead of Belkin’s Maarten Tjallingii.
As they hit the technical, pacey descent, they took the pace off however and their advantage was soon cut in half by the Orica-GreenEDGE-led bunch.
Michael Matthews was in regular conversation with his team car as the Australian team assessed the situation, taking the decision – unsurprisingly – to leave the riders hanging out in front for as long as possible.
But with their day’s work done, many of the escapees were happy to sit-up and return to the bunch, particularly given a headwind which hit the riders hard with 25 kilometres to go.
Van der Sande made several attempted attacks off the front, but most of these served only to disrupt the momentum of the group.
The one which stuck saw him carry Thurau, Frapporti and Monsalve with him and the other seven riders took the opportunity to sit up and return to the main group.
Thurau eventually launched a solo attack as the lead tumbled and the rain started falling but the chase behind was disrupted by a crash at the foot of the Viggiano.
Riders from Movistar, Tinkoff-Saxo, Team Colombia and Ag2r-La Mondiale all hit the deck, though none of their chief GC contenders fell.
Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) was among the riders caught behind it however, as was Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing).
The American team nevertheless hit the front of the bunch, their pace causing another split which saw Ivan Santaromita (Orica-GreenEDGE) lose contact at the back of the group.
Thurau’s solo effort came to an end with 14km still to race as the chief GC contenders sought safety at the front of the bunch – Pozzovivo having been paced back into the leading group.
Rodriguez and Scarponi were both up there as they crested the Viggiano for the first time, which proved to be a sensible move with commissaires warning about the conditions on the descent.
Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) looked to relish the fast, technical descent despite the wet conditions, and took off at the front but the majority of the bunch took it slowly.
Gaps appeared as some riders looked reluctant to push too hard, and crash for Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing) and Mikel Landa (Astana) showed exactly why.
Davide Malacarne (Europcar) launched a counter-attack, but the leading group soon swept him up with four kilometres to go, while Gianluca Brambilla stretched his lead to 30 seconds.
As the road continued skywards, Brambilla’s gap fell by the pedal stroke however, with Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) finding riders from Sky and Katusha for company at the front of the much-stripped down peloton.
Matthews stayed safe in the bunch in the maglia rosa, which also contained many of the main GC contenders but it was Katusha looking strongest at the front.
As Brambilla’s solo lead came to an end just outside the final kilometre, prompting an attack from Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo), which Katusha closed down.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) attacked next but it was Matthews who bridged to bring the leading group together and set up an uphill sprint.
Evans looked strong in the final sprint, as did Arredondo, but they had simply no answer to the acceleration of Ulissi who won by several bike lengths.
Evans bagged second to pick up bonus seconds, but the stage belonged to the Italian.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage five – result
1) Diego Ulissi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida – 5.12.39hrs
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +1”
3) Julian Arredondo (COL) – Trek Factory Racing – ST
4) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
5) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo
6) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
7) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha
8) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling
9) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
10) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar
1) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – 17.41.23hrs
2) Pieter Weening (NED) – Orica-GreenEDGE +14”
3) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +15”
4) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +19”
5) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +26”
6) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky +35”
7) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +37”
8) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Astana +41”
9) Dario Cataldo (ITA) – Team Sky +49”
10) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +52”