Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) took control of Tirreno-Adriatico with a dominant stage five win atop the gruelling climb of the Muro di Guardiagrele.
Following his success in Cittareale the previous day, El Pistolero showed why he has won five career Grand Tours – plus two further wins stripped from his record – with a stunning acceleration to solo to victory and into the overall lead.
The Spaniard jumped clear on the Passo Lanciano, attacking alongside Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to blow the race apart early on, and then launched another long attack to win the stage ahead of Simon Geschke (Giant-Shimano).
Geschke, Benjamin King (Garmin-Sharp) and Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) had all stayed clear having been part of the day’s break – producing outstanding rides to finish second, third and fourth respectively.
But the day belonged to Contador who proved he can still be a serious contender for stage racing success having fallen back on all of his experience to control the race from start to finish.
Team Sky’s hopes of overall success suffered a huge blow however, after Richie Porte succumbed to an overnight illness, forcing him to withdraw before the stage started having been sat fourth overall.
Alongside Geschke, King and Hansen, the day’s break had also consisted of David de la Cruz (Team NetApp-Endura), Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Yaroslav Popovych (Trek Factory Racing) and Luca Paolini (Katusha).
They earned a decent-sized gap on the bunch, with overall leader Michal Kwiatkowski and his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team-mates struggling on the day’s climbs.
Wout Poels had hauled the Polish rider back in contention after Contador and Quintana’s attack shed the main group to just 25 riders.
By the time they hit the penultimate climb, the break had been significantly splintered, with King, Hansen, Geschke and de la Cruz still together at the front.
Further back, Contador waited patiently before Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) injected some pace in the leading group – at which point the Tinkoff-Saxo man seized the initiative to jump clear.
Though there were still 30 kilometres to ride, the Spaniard’s attack proved too much for his fellow contenders to match as he picked off the escapees before him.
He caught Hansen before cresting the summit and then joined the remaining three escapees at the foot of the Guardiagrele.
Quintana led a chasing group behind, which also contained Jean-Christophe Peraud and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
But Contador would not be stopped at the front, neutralising an attempted attack by King before kicking on the 30 per cent ramps of the fearsome climb.
Geschke maintainted close contact with the Spaniard, but Contador would not be denied as he stormed to victory by six seconds.
Peraud eventually crossed 1’26”, while Quintana rolled in 12th a further 25 seconds down.
For Kwiatkowski however, the pace had simply been too much as he finished alongside Poels, some six minutes down on Contador with his hopes of overall victory shattered.
Instead, Contador now boasts a 2’08” overall lead ahead of Quintana with one road stage and one individual time trial to come.
Tirreno-Adriatico 2014: stage five – result
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 4.54.42hrs
2) Simon Geschke (GER) – Giant-Shimano +6”
3) Benjamin King (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +45”
4) Adam Hansen (AUS) – Lotto-Belisol +1.01
5) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +1.26
6) Giampaolo Caruso (ITA) – Katusha +1.39
7) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff-Saxo +1.42
8) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – ST
9) Julian Arredondo (COL) – Trek Factory Racing
10) Rinaldo Nocentini (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 21.01.30hrs
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +2.08
3) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff-Saxo +2.15
4) Julian Arredondo (COL) – Trek Factory Racing +2.39
5) Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +2.40
6) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky +2.50
7) Dani Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +2.51
8) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +2.56
9) Giampaolo Caruso (ITA) – Katusha +2.58
10) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Trek Factory Racing +3.06