An odd day, even by Vuelta standards. Despite the relatively tame route, the GC contenders were unwilling to let an escape get too much leeway, even embarking on their own race come the final climb. Marczynski proved the strongest of the stragglers and took a career defining stage win.
Stage Six Review
From the moment the flag dropped, a fierce battle to jump into the day’s breakaway ensued. The initial group was a little to large for Team Sky and they duly ramped up the pace in order to put the squeeze on some of the riders ahead.
A real mix of rouleurs and climbers swamped the move, eager to gain both KOM points and the chance to snatch an illusive stage win. Villella and Atapuma spent the day fighting it out for the mountains points, the Italian getting the better of the Colombian on all but one of the categorised ascents.
Another Colombian, Jarlinson Pantano, then set an electric pace in the group out front, shattering the move. Several riders were shot out of the back and only the strongest of climbers remained. Back in the peloton, the GC contenders were starting to stir, with 22% gradients on the final climb, this was a chance to really shake up proceedings…
Trek Segafredo lead onto the Puerto del Garbi at an incredibly high speed, setting Contador up for a big attack. The Spaniard delivered and soon soloed off the front, only Froome able to hang on as Nibali and Chaves momentarily dropped back.
The key GC contenders eventually made it back onto the elite pair out front, but still, Contador continued to drive. Pantano dropped back from the group ahead to pace his leader and soon the select GC peloton soon threatened the lead of the breakaway, the gap dropping down to 12 seconds at one point.
Three riders survived the hellish chase and came into the final kilometre with just enough time to play a little game of cat and mouse; Marczynski trumping both Polanjski and Mas to the line.
Several GC contenders lost time on the fast run in, primarily due to crashes on the ascent and descent of the final climb. Van Garderen, De la Cruz and Costa all losing 13 seconds to the group of Contador and Froome.
Stage Seven Preview
The stage may be billed as a flat affair, but the final climb just 12km from the finish has the potential to make it anything but. This is a day for the opportunists, the risk takers of the peloton…
The Route: Lliria –> Cuenca (207km)
Despite only just passing over the 200km mark, stage 7 is the longest day on this three week race, emphasising the organisers preference to short, sharp and aggressive days in the saddle.
The day is by no means a mountain stage, but riders will spend the majority of the day gaining altitude as they make their way towards Cuenca. Such a stage will inevitably sap a lot of energy from riders, and by the finish, they may just struggle to hold a grip on the race.
The two Cat 3 climbs before the midpoint of the stage won’t worry the bunch too much, and will rather just be used as potential launchpads for a breakaway move. The real action will lie in wait for the final climb of the day, the 2km ascent up the Alto del Castillo.
2000m at 7.3% will shatter a lot of riders legs, especially the sprinters that will be hoping to make it to the stage finale in Cuenca. If the initial ascent doesn’t break them, the 3.4km after the summit probably will…
The roads in this older part of Cuenca are far from ideal, cracked asphalt soon makes way for cobbled streets, a real strength sapper for the riders.
The riders will then turn and drop 8.4km back into Cuenca, descending all the way to the flamme rouge. The final kilometre is arrow straight and wide, four lanes for the sprinters teams to occupy; given they make it to the finish.
Can the sprinters control the attacks?
Aside from an early breakaway move, this stage will more than likely be decided in the final 20km with the lead up and everything after the crucial Cat 3 climb.
Whilst the big sprinting teams of Aqua Blue, Quickstep and Trek Segafredo will look to keep the race on a tight leash, every other team will be aiming to light up the race on the final climb.
Catching the initial break will be a dangerous game for those wanting a bunch sprint in the finale; they can’t bring them back too early and encourage probing attacks over the final climb, and they also can’t allow them to go into the finale with a significant lead. This is a real tough one to judge…
Even if the sprinters teams do manage to control the race over the summit, they’ll expend a lot of riders doing so and subsequently isolate their sprinters come the long flat finale. Those fast men residing on smaller teams may just get their chance tomorrow, out of sight and out of mind can often work wonders on this race…
This is a stage for the opportunists and risk takers of the bunch, the final Cat 3 ascent is just long enough to create gaps and with no GC advantages to gain, the majority of teams will let attacks fly.
UAE, Astana and Movistar have all come to this race with a contingent of aggressive climbers, this is their chance to really light up a stage finale and take it to the sprinters teams.
Despite never gaining more than three minutes on todaqy’s stage, the breakaway still managed to snatch the stage win. Such a victory will undoubtedly spark others to try their luck tomorrow; now they know that the race can’t be controlled, they may just be more willing to take risks in the finale.
One rider who made today’s escape and animated the final half of the stage was Quickstep rider, Bob Jungels. The Luxembourger soloed clear with Maxime Monfort but soon paid for his effort on the final climb of the day. He isn’t showing the strongest form in the mountains, but what he’s lacking on the uphill, he is surely making up for with his aggressive attacks.
Jungels won a similar stage on this year’s Giro D’Italia, a stage inspired by the infamous Il Lombardia. A late attack on the final climb could just see Jungels take a deserved stage win; even from within the group of GC contenders, he’s a strong sprinter and could challenge.
Luis Leon Sanchez was another rider also trying for the win today, eventually finishing fourth just 8 seconds down on the winner. The Spaniard is clearly on some strong form and can evidently hold his own on the flat, as well as on the steep ascents, characteristic of this Vuelta a Espana.
Tomorrow’s finish is an ideal finale for the Astana rider, a steep climb just 13km before the finish could see him sneak off the front of the main group. If he comes to the finish with a small group in tow, he also has a punchy acceleration to get the job done…
He may be limited by the jersey on his back, but Gianni Moscon has been one of the revelations of this year’s Vuelta. The Italian has been resilient on the climbs and proven to be one of Froome’s most loyal lieutenant, towing him up many of the climbs so far.
He’s had a sterling end of season and impressed in the recent Route de Sol race, surprising on some of the toughest mountain climbs. If he’s given the freedom tomorrow, he’s one of the strongest riders in this race and won’t struggle putting distance into the peloton behind.
Looking to support his teammate tomorrow, and possibly engage in a one two move on the final climb is Spaniard, Pello Bilbao. The Astana rider is yet to show his strengths in this race and has likely been saving all of his energy for tomorrow.
The stage suits him down to a tee and a late attack will serve him well. If it comes down to a reduced kick, he possesses a punchy sprint that could just snatch him a stage win.
Other riders that may look to spark some attacks on the final climb will be riders like, Jan Polanc, Tobias Ludvigsson and Przemyslaw Niemiec. None will be able to challenge in a sprint for the line and may need to come to the finish solo if they stand any chance of taking the victory.
Whilst most teams will be looking to set tomorrow up for a royal rumble on the final climb, a select few will be aiming to keep the race together for the finale. Quickstep, Trek and Lotto NL Jumbo will have the group in tight check, all for Matteo Trentin, Edward Theuns and Juan Jose Lobato for a fast finale.
As we saw on today’s stage, Team Sky want to take the red jersey all the way to Madrid, bad news for any potential GC contenders looking to attack the race.
Half the peloton may attempt to forge clear on the final climb, but none will be able to really escape the shackles of Team Sky. However, what if one of their own riders attacked the ascent?
Step forward, Gianni Moscon. The Italian is on a super run of form and would be unbeatable if given a small gap over the summit.
Cross your fingers now for Moscon to be let off the leash…
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…