Stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné started with the race in flux after race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) announced just hours before the race start that he wouldn't be starting due to the effects of a crash on the descent from the Col de Plan Bois.
Riders began the downhill start to the stage as a 'go slow' to protest the poor quality of the descent where the crash occurred, that saw the abandonment of four riders in total.
After the protest, there was near non-stop action and attacks in one of the hardest stages in living memory. An early break of 11 on the Cote de Dommancy included new race leader Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), who was going to have his work cut out after inheriting the lead from retired yellow jersey Roglič.
As the pace increased from the peloton behind, including a dropped Martinez, the race came back together, but with significant riders already showing the strain.
On the Col de la Colombiere, the third climb of the day, Pavel Sivakov (Team INEOS) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) escaped off the front of the race, and quickly established a lead that stretched out to a minute and a half.
Behind, the pace wasn't slacking and Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren) were the big contenders who had slipped away from the chance to be part of the general classification battle, relegated to riding along in a peloton that was never in contention to return to the front of the race.
Descending from the stage's fifth climb, the fourth-category Côte de la Frassette, Sivakov clipped his pedal on a corner and hit the deck. Despite significant abrasions down his left side, the INEOS rider was quickly back on the bike and managed to regain contact with Alaphilippe going onto the Domancy for the second time.
The gap had been reduced significantly by the chasing group in the valley as Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) pulled a powerful turn to bring his teammates back into contention.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) was the first to make a serious assault, launching clear of the peloton with Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) in tow. Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) and Daniel Martinez (EF Education First) were soon to follow and the riders met at the front of the race to form a formidable sextet as the chase struggled in fits and spurts to get organised behind, with Pinot visibly frustrated.
With all riders near their limits after the brutally hard stage to date, Alaphilippe was the first to be dropped and Lopez also fell off the high pace.
The group pulled away from the Pinot-led chasers, with Martinez now in the virtual race lead as the gap increased to over a minute.
Pinot launched a last-ditch solo effort on the final climb up to the runway finish of the previous stage, and was making significant headway across the gap before running out of steam and being recovered by his group.
Meanwhile, Kuss showed his strength as a domestique could be used to help him win races, attacking with nine kilometres remaining in the race after a Sivakov surge. The American wouldn't be caught and powered away to a famous win as the general classification battle played out behind.
Pogačar and Martinez cooperated well into the finish and managed to hold off Pinot's group sufficiently to secure Martinez's first WorldTour stage race victory, with Pogačar jumping five places on the standings to finish fourth overall.
"When they told me this morning that Roglič wasn't starting, I knew that the race would be frantic from the start," said Martinez. "When Pinot and Landa went clear (on the first ascent of Dommancy), the team worked for me and I kept myself as fresh as possible in the hope that I could win the race."
"My DS was giving me the time gaps on Pinot on the final climb. I was right at my limit but completely determined right to the end. This is one of the most important races in the world, some famous Colombians have won it and to join them makes me very happy. The Tour is also one of my objectives but I'm staying calm and keeping my feet on the ground."
Kuss had proven himself one of the strongest riders in the race with his performances as a super-domestique for team leader Roglič throughout the week. The 25-year-old got his chance to shine, and grabbed it in convincing fashion taking the win in one of the hardest stages in recent Dauphiné history.
"After yesterday it was strange waking up in the morning, we were all a bit shocked," said Kuss. "It was weird day with all of the crashes. But it gave us the opportunity to race aggressively.
"It was one of the hardest days I've ever had on the bike. It was full-on from the start, everyone was really tired and I thought I could take advantage of that and also take advantage of being lower down on GC.
"I love being a helper but I also want to win races. This is a nice confirmation after my Vuelta win. It's nice winning from a break like I did at the Vuelta, but on a stage like today, I had to go head to head with the best riders. It's a morale boost going into the Tour, it gives you a sense of calm too."
The win for Jumbo-Visma made it stage wins for three of the five opportunities for the race, putting the other teams on notice for the Tour de France, due to start on August 29.
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