The first summit finish of La Vuelta promised to provide a showdown for the favourites for the final podium, and it did not let us down. Alejandro Valverde set a fierce pace all the way up and had enough left in tank to take the stage win and the red jersey.
Showdown on La Zubia
The sixth stage might have been 167.7km long, but as expected all the fireworks came in the last four.
Solid work by teams with GC hopes saw the break of the day caught on the lower slopes of the final climb. On the 12% gradients, Valverde looked like he was acting as pacemaker for teammate Nairo Quintana. The pace was punishing and riders of the calibre of Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharpe), Wilko Kelderman (Belkin), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and Cadel Evans with Samu Sanchez (BMC) were all unable to hold on.
With 700m to go, stage favourite Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) launched one of his trademark accelerations, but Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo), and Valverde brought him back, setting up a four-man fight in the closing metres. Valverde had looked the most comfortable all the way up the climb and when he attacked with 200m to go, no one was able to match him. With arms aloft he was over the line and into the leader’s jersey.
So, what has this first real test shown us? Well, it’s a little too early to start predicting a winner quite yet. However, with five main contenders looking good, and both Fabio Aru (Astana) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) putting in excellent performances to finish sixth and seventh on the stage. I’d say we are certainly in for a very exciting final week.
Out in the break
For the second day running, Pim Lighthart (Lotto-Belisol) was in the long break of the day. Unlike yesterday, however, he did at least have some company in the form of Lluis Mas Bonet (Caja-Rural). At one point the pair built up a lead of around 15 minutes but as the final climb of the day drew closer so did the chasing peloton, until they were caught on the steeper lower slopes of La Zubia.
All that effort wasn’t in vain though. Mas Bonet defended his lead in the mountains competition, earning himself and his team another day in the smart blue and white polka dot jersey. Already wearing the coveted red numbers denoting the most attacking rider of yesterday’s stage, Lighthart gets to pin them on again tomorrow.
VeloVoices rider of the day
I have chosen Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). It is just six weeks since the day he broke his leg in Stage 10 of the Tour de France. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting to see him back on the bike much at all this season, let alone contesting the outcome at summit finishes. I have never been happier to be proven wrong.
Yes, this was only the first of many tough stages to come, but for today it was a pleasure to see the familiar dancing on the pedals. As the team directeur sportif Steven de Jongh said, “I guess he took us all by surprise today.”
Stage 6 result
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 4:35:27
2. Chris Froome (Sky) same time
3. Alberto Contador Tinkoff-Saxo) s/t
4. Joaquim Rodriguez Katusha) +0.08
5. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0.12
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 22:48:08
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:15
3. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:18
4. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:22
5. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +0.41
6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0.45
7. Robert Gesink (Belkin) +0.55
8. Fabio Aru (Astana) +0.58
9. Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) +1.02
10. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) +1.06
Points leader: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
King of the Mountains leader: Lluis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural).
Combined jersey: Alejando Valverde (Movistar).
Team classification: Belkin.