He came up short on his goal to win the stage but Michael Matthews put in a superb defence of his Maglia Rosa on the fifth stage of the Giro d’Italia, sticking with the climbers on the uphill finish to Viggiano and holding onto the pink jersey.

The Orica GreenEdge rider rode hard in the finale to prevent time gains by the stage winner Diego Ulissi and others, closing a gap which opened as the uphill specialists skirmished for the stage win.

Ulissi hit the line a second ahead of the BMC Racing Team’s Cadel Evans, who showed good form and reminded his younger rivals that he is a serious contender for the overall classification. Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) was third.

Lampre Merida rider Ulissi timed his finishing surge perfectly, kicking clear of the others inside the final 200 metres. His combination of power and pace earned him his second Giro stage win of his career, following on from his 2011 triumph in Tirano.

“I managed to hide myself for most of the day,” the 24 year old Italian said afterwards, talking about the power he saved for the end of the race. “It was a difficult day and very, very windy. Of course I tried to position myself well and luckily I was able to do it.”

Matthews was relieved at the finish and said he and the team want to retain the jersey tomorrow. “Today’s stage was the big goal for me. We showed we really deserved this jersey,” he said. “We proved today that we have a really strong team, because to keep the jersey and to be able to have a good crack at the finish you need a good team.”

Wednesday’s race started in Taranto and covered 203 kilometres of the toughest roads yet in this year’s Giro. While it was some way off a full mountain stage, the second half of the day included the third category Valico di Serra di San Chirico and then two ascents of the fourth category climb in Viggiano itself. The second of those acted as the finish, giving the general classification riders a chance to show their form and test their rivals for the first time.

Unsurprisingly, a group of riders sought to pre-empt that finishing surge by building an early advantage. Eleven riders clipped away just over twenty kilometres after the start, with sprinters such as Elia Viviani (Cannondale), Ben Swift (Sky) and Tyler Farrer (Garmin Sharp) present, along with Yonathan Monsalve (Neri Sottoli), Europcar’s Tony Hurel and Bjorn Thurau, Lotto Belisol’s Tosh Van der Sande and Kenny Dehaes, Fabian Wegmann (Garmin-Sharp), Miguel Angel Rubiano (Colombia) and Marco Frapporti (Androni Giocattoli).

The group build a four minute lead into the early headwind, enabling Swift to take the intermediate sprint at Montalbano Jonico (km 70) ahead of Viviani and Farrar. Rubiano then picked up top mountains points at the prime ahead of the fragmented breakaway, with several short-lived attacks firing off from the main bunch.

The break continued on but was eventually reeled in 23 kilometres from the line, after which the peloton hit the first ascent of the finishing climb. On the wet descent Omega Pharma QuickStep’s Gianluca Brambilla threw caution to the wind and opened a lead of half a minute, holding his maching upright while several riders fell behind.

His risk-taking was to no avail, though, as the Katusha team hauled him back on the final drag. The Russian squad was working for former world number one Joaquim Rodriguez, normally one of the strongest riders on such a finish, and closed down a move by Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff Saxo) with one kilometre to go.

However Rodriguez didn’t have it in the final 200 metres and had to be satisfied with seventh. Instead, Ulissi, Evans and Arredondo were the strongest, while Matthews rode strongly to take sixth behind Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma Quick Step) and Rafa Majka (Tinkoff Saxo).

That saw him end the day fourteen seconds clear of his team-mate Pieter Weening and a further second ahead of Cadel Evans. Uran, Majka, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Roche complete the top seven and are all within 37 seconds of the Maglia Rosa.

Stage 5: Taranto > Viggiano - Stage Result

Wednesday 14th May 2014

1. it
ULISSI Diego
Lampre-Merida
05:12:39
2. au
EVANS Cadel
BMC Racing Team
0:01
3. co
ARREDONDO MORENO Julián David
Trek Factory Racing
-