Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 6 Preview

A tug of war battle between a Team Sky lead bunch and determined breakaway soon swung in the way of the escape, 16 men all within contention of the stage win. Alexey Lutsenko proved the strongest of the pack and soloed to maiden GT stage success. 

Alexey Lutsenko salutes the crowd as he soloes to an impressive stage win. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Stage Five Review

As expected, the battle to jump into today’s breakaway move was fierce, 16 men finally snapping the elastic after the first climb of the day. Movistar and Katusha were well represented in the move, but it was Julian Alaphilippe who soon assumed the position of ‘main favourite’ for the stage win.

The escape engaged in a dogged tug of war battle between a sky lead bunch and the road ahead. With 70km remaining, the gap hovered at around 3:30 minutes; but cooperation in the escape group soon saw the elastic snap.

It was the climb of the Alto de la Serratella that fractured the group out front, Marco Haller attacking down the descent. The escape shattered and riders were left in pairs all over the road. Lutsenko used the riders ahead of him to bridge to the Katusha rider and soon the pair looked set to contend the stage win.

Kudus and Gougeard put up a strong effort behind but couldn’t quite make the catch, Lutsenko gradually dropping Haller as the road climbed upwards to the finish. The Kazakh rider held on to take the stage win as Kudus came in 40 seconds down to secure a valiant second.

Marco Haller leads the escape group on today’s stage. CREDIT: Tim de Waele

Behind, it was the turn of the GC contenders to have their fun, Team Sky setting an electric pace for Chris Froome in the finale. The Brit soon forged clear with Chaves, Woods, Contador and Van Garderen in tow. By the finish, he had increased his lead over many of his key rivals, namely Nibali who lost around 30 seconds to the red jersey…

Stage Six Preview 

Another day at La Vuelta and yet more climbing kilometres; nothing too meaty for the GC contenders to sink their teeth into, but surely enough to catalyse a large breakaway battle…

The Route: Villareal –> Sagunto (204.4km) 

Stage 6 Profile. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

Tomorrow’s stage profile almost mirrors that of today’s, a quartet of Cat 3 climbs and a solo Cat 2; the only difference being the lack of a steep summit finish…

The duo of Cat 3s early on in the day look set to become the breakaway battleground for the day, two summits within 10km more than likely creating a large escape group.

Any breakaway will then be treated to a great opportunity to gain more time as they hit the valley section in Soneja. The next climb, the Alto de Chirivilla, is a gradual and constant affair, nothing to trouble any riders among the breakaway or peloton.

It’s rather the final two climbs of the day that will start to instill some nerves. The first of the duo, Puerto del Oronet, is only 6.4km at 4%, but it’s proximity to the final Cat 2 ascent could produce some aggressive racing, especially from the escape group.

The Puerto del Garbi will see the riders climb for the final time tomorrow, the organisers leaving the toughest ascent of the day till the end. The Cat 2 ascent is an extremely irregular climb, 9.3km long and 5.2% average, but with some sections ramping up to 11%, surely something that the sprinters won’t be able to haul themselves over.

A fast run in to the finish. CREDIT: CyclingStage.com

From the summit of the final climb, the riders will have just over 36km left to race, mostly downhill aside from the final 3km.

The run into Sagunto is far from technical and actually resembles somewhat of a sprinters paradise; shame the undulating parcours beforehand do not…

Roundabouts run rife in the finale, but with a small group expected to contend the finish, they shouldn’t have too much of an impact on the outcome of the race. A final bend with 800m to go will thrust riders into view of the finish line, this will be a long, and hard, sprint for the line.

Nothing to gain for the GC

Today’s stage had a summit finish that could have potentially seen a showdown between the big GC contenders, tomorrow, however, sees nothing in the way of potential launchpads and should be reduced to a wholly breakaway affair.

With Quickstep and Trek the only two teams wanting to take the race to a bunch sprint, they won’t find much in the way of support if a large breakaway make it up the road. The best chance for a sprinter to take the win tomorrow may just be to join the escape themselves; 36km downhill to the finish is more than enough time to catch back up to the leaders if dropped.

Quickstep may just have to infiltrate tomorrow’s breakaway if they wish to score another stage victory. CREDIT: CorVos

The final climb is where the real showdown for the stage win will ensue, the smaller climbers within the escape eager to use the 11% ramps to drop the strong rouleurs. They’ll need a few to band together if they wish to truly distance the larger riders, there’s still a long descent and flat to the finish where they will inevitably be found out given the wrong work ethic.

If another 16 man strong breakaway move is allowed to go, I can’t see any of the teams bringing it back; this is one for the breakaway and each and every rider will know this…

The Contenders

Once again, the riders will face down in a fierce game of breakaway lottery to try and make it into tomorrow’s move, any escape likely contending for the stage win in Sagunt. Those riders who narrowly missed out on today’s victory may just be motivated to jump into the move once more.

One of these riders will be young Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe. He seems to be Quickstep’s man for the breakaways in this race and will be eager to snatch a stage win and equal the tally of teammates, Lampaert and Trentin.

Alaphilippe is renonwed for his exploits in day long breakaways. Tomorrow could be the start of his assault on the green jersey. CREDIT: SkySports

The route suits him perfectly, especially if a fierce pace is set on the final Cat 2 climb. He’s a wily rider and can clamber up some of the steepest ramps whilst expending very little energy. Many escapees will have to be weary of the little Frenchman tomorrow, they simply cannot take him to the finish.

He may have already claimed his stage win, and could potentially be eyeing up more simple sprint stages later in the race, but Matteo Trentin may just choose to dabble in tomorrow’s breakaway. Not only does he have a second stage win to chase, but also the green points jersey; a classification that he looks likely to contend until Madrid.

Another rider that made today’s escape and may possibly choose to exert himself once more is AG2R’s Alexis Gougeard. The Frenchman came close to catching Haller and Lutsenko today but was undone by the steep percentages of the final climb. He won’t face such ascents tomorrow and the descent to the finish could suit him; being a strong northern classics rider, he knows what it’s like to be in long, solo breakaway efforts…

The ‘King of Breakaways’ himself, Thomas de Gendt, may choose to grace tomorrow’s escape with his presence. He’s already amassed a tally of KOM points and will be looking to slowly build upon his number as the weeks progress.

Step forward the breakaway king, Thomas de Gendt… CREDIT: Yuzuru SUNADA

Tomorrow’s stage echoes the first stage of this year’s Criterium du Dauphine, a day where De Gendt won after the sprinters teams failed to motivate themselves to chase. The Belgian may just be treated to similar circumstances tomorrow, especially given the severe lack of sprinting quality in this race.

Other breakaway candidates include Luis Leon Sanchez, Jan Polanc, Nelson Oliviera, Anthony Roux and Bert-Jan Lindeman, all of these riders have come to this race eager to snatch a stage win, a breakaway move their only way of claiming such a victory.

In the unlikely circumstance that the break is pulled back for the bunch sprint, Juan Jose Lobato has shown some speedy form and could potentially challenge Matteo Trentin for the stage victory. Tom Van Asbroeck has also shown some strong form, and with Degenkolb now out of the race, it is these second tier sprinters that may just get their shot at glory.

Race Prediction

With a breakaway win looking like the most probable outcome tomorrow, the first few kilometres are going to be one cagey affair. Teams will have to monitor who makes the move, possibly even placing a few of their own to mark moves within moves…breakaway inception!

Whilst the day may be defined by it’s catergorised climbs, it’s really the final 36km that will decide the eventual winner of the stage. Such a finish will favour the faster riders in the breakaway, riders such as Tom Van Asbroeck.

Van Asbroeck to continue Cannondale’s strong run of form in 2017 GTs. CREDIT: SlipStreamSports

Cannondale have come to this race to hunt stage wins, their Belgian sprinter coming close with a third on stage four. They don’t have the power to bring back an escape tomorrow, or to compete with the leadout trains of Quickstep or Aqua Blue in the finale. As a result, they’ll be aiming to swamp the break with green jerseys, hoping that the breakaway lead gives them some sort of head start on the finish…

Tom Van Asbroeck for the stage win!

Who do you think will take tomorrow’s stage? Agree with our prediction? If you enjoyed this stage preview, make sure you’re following InsideThePeloton on Twitter for all further updates on this year’s Vuelta! Any feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated…