Vuelta a España 2022 stage five preview - Medium mountains in the Basque Country

Full preview of another up and down day in the Basque Country at the 2022 Vuelta a España

Vuelta a España 2022, stage five
Distance: 187.2 kilometres
Start location: Irun
Finish location: Bilbao
Start time: 11.45 BST
Finish time (approx): 16.30 BST

The second of three stages in the Basque Country, the Vuelta a España stage five is also the second consecutive medium mountain stage, with plenty more of the undulating terrain that is characteristic of the Basque Country on the menu.

The day begins in the city of Irun, which sits on the North-East border with France. The 2020 Vuelta began here after Utrecht’s original bid to host was delayed due to Covid-19, and the race returns here this year, but does not travel to Arrate – last time around, Roglič took red here, foreshadowing the final result when he won his second Vuelta on the trot.

Read more: Vuelta a España 2022 route: everything you need to know

The route winds its way along the coast for a time, passing through the town of San Sebastian, and covering similar ground for a distance which is ridden for the eponymous one-day Classic. That race was won by one Remco Evenepoel just a few weeks ago, and the young Belgian might see the day as an opportunity to exert his dominance, on terrain with which he is very familiar.

Vuelta a España 2022 stage five map and profile

The first 50km is relatively flat as the route moves along the Bay of Biscay. After 50km an uncategorised climb at the coastal resort of Zumaia kicks off the second part of the race, which is decidedly hillier.

Heading away from the coast, the climbing begins with a pair of third category climbs in quick succession. The Puerto de Gontzagarigana and Balcón de Bizkaia – 5.3km at 4.5% and 4.2km at 5.6% respectively – represent quickfire tests that will wake up the peloton and ensure that the GC teams are attentive to any early moves. 

There’s a long descent of around 10km from the pair of category three climbs before the riders are pitched immediately up another climb, the first part of which is uncategorised, and which leads into the next third category ascent, the Alto de Morga. This longer climb of 8.6km is not as steep – just 3.5% on average across its distance – but the pace will start to wind up as with just over 60km to go, the race heads south towards Bilbao.

The final challenge for the riders comes in the shape of two laps around Bilbao, taking in two ascents of the Alto de Vivero. The climb is a category 2, just 4.6km in length but sharp and punchy, with an average gradient of 8% - this doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as in several places there are pitches in the double digits.

After each ascent comes a 10km descent into Bilbao city centre. The port city is one of the most important in Europe, and with a thriving tourist industry and modern buildings, it has lots to offer visitors. 

On offer for the Vuelta peloton on the first passage through the city is an intermediate sprint, and on the second passage, the promise of a stage win. After the second descent into Bilbao, the final 200m are flat, and if the punchier sprinters have managed to hold on over the two tough passes of the final climb they may contest a reduced bunch sprint. It’s also a great day for a potential breakaway.

Vuelta a España 2022 stage five predictions and contenders

Later in a Grand Tour you could almost certainly expect this stage to go to a breakaway. That seems a little less nailed considering the situation of the race right now, with fewer than 20 riders over 10 minutes back on general classification, meaning getting a big gap on the road may prove difficult.

The profile, particularly the category two climb 15km from the finish, looks much too hard for the pure sprinters like Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), so if the bunch stays together it will more likely come down to the more versatile fast-men - Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) for example - or the punchy finishers like Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), or the race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).

There will be a big fight for the break though, and there'll be a wealth of riders looking to get into it and make it count.

Predictions: We think the main favourites will reach the finish at the front of the race with a sprint finish from a whittles down peloton. Mads Pedersen will win the stage and Primož Roglič will retain the overall lead.