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Welcome back, readers, to the 2009 Vuelta a Espana, taking place today at the Costa Blanca. Not that we - or the riders - would see much of it, as stage six loops inland around the start and finishing town of Xativa, to take the peloton over three Cat. 3 climbs. However, these may not prove to be overly hard obstacles for the sprinters' teams, and we may see yet another bunch gallop at the finish.
Especially Columbia-HTC, whose leader Andre Greipel has already won two stages and is currently wearing the golden jersey of the overall lead, will be looking to control the race.
A very hot 34°C greeted the riders this midday at the start in Xativa, and as soon as the flag was dropped for the start into 176.8 kilometres around town, a first breakaway was attempted, nevertheless brought back by Xacobeo-Galicia. A few kilometres later, a new breakaway formed, this time a success.
Four riders got away, including two that already made the break in yesterday's stage to Vinaros. José Antonio López Gil (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Matthé Pronk (Vacansoleil) are thus on their second breakaway in a row at this Vuelta - a massive accomplishment considering the temperatures.
They are joined by Bingen Fernandez (Cofidis) and Aitor Perez Arrieta (Contentpolis-Ampo), and together they opened up a considerable gap reaching close to seven minutes after 30 kilometres. Since then, the Columbia-HTC team has taken control of the bunch's pace, thereby brigning down the lead to 5.40.
The front riders are now on their way up the first climb of the day, the Alto de la Muela.
One can only respect the courage of José Antonio López Gil (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Matthé Pronk (Vacansoleil), who have already ridden 150 kilometres out front in the heat yesterday, and are doing exactly the same again today... Temperatures around Xativa are in their upper thirties again.
In many respects, this stage seems to be a copy of the previous one, as the riders will face another small bump in the last kilometres - the Alto de Serragrosa with 10 k to go. It is not categorised, but it might prove decisive being so close to the finish. We shall see...
The Alto de la Muela is 9.5 kilometres long and pretty rolling, although it is divided into two parts separated by a brief downhill stretch. The gap is 5.38 minutes as the four leaders are 1.5 kilometres away from going over the top.
Basque rider Bingen Fernandez takes his turn. The Cofidis rider is the oldest member of the break, in his 14th season as a pro. At the age of 36, this would seem to be his last season, although he may continue his involvement with professional cycling as a team manager later on.
The heat and effort is taking its toll on Pronk, who got dropped some 20 seconds from his breakaway mates. He will try and reconnect on the descent.
Lopez Gil was the first over the top of the Alto de la Muela.
Pronk is back with his escape companions.
One rider not to start this morning was Kim Kirchen (Columbia), who is the fourth rider to abandon this year's Vuelta. That leaves 194 riders in the event at the moment.
They've made it down the descent now. The gap is still 4.48 minutes.
Our four-man escape has reached the intermediate sprint in Millares, where Aitor Perez was the first to take the points, followed by Lopez and Fernandez.
The temperature on the road is up to 38°C again, making the day difficult once more even though the pace is not excessive: the second hour of racing was completed at 36.7 km/h average.
A crash in the bunch took down several riders just now, but all of them are back on their bikes and inside the peloton again.
One rider surely suffering again today is Ezekiel Mosquera from Xacobeo. The Spaniard is recovering from crashing in Liège, but still has a sprained ankle. Mosquera was fifth overall in 2007 and fourth last year - he is a top contender for the podium in Madrid, if he can survive this injury.
Perez and Lopez are sprinting to the top of the second climb now, the Alto de Millares. Lopez gets it! Dutchman Pronk again lost a few seconds on the others, but will be able to join them again on the downhill.
The gap to the chasing peloton has dropped to 3.48 as Pronk caught up again.
López will thus be the new leader of the mountains classification, as he's scored six points twice until now, which makes 12, added to his two points from yesterday, this totals to 14 - four points ahead of Euskaltel's Aitor Hernandez.
The break is still on a rolling descent towards the valley. The road looks smooth, and the curves are not too tight.
The Valencia region is not too dry and the scenery right now is still quite green compared to the more southern or central regions of Spain. Still, the heat is the same... it's what makes the Valencia oranges so tasty, though!
The favourites of this race, the likes of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) or Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) are sitting safely inside the bunch and preserving their strength for tomorrow's time trial around Valencia. With only 30 kilometres, the race against the clock will reshuffle the classification, but it will surely not set it in stone yet.
Oops! Emanuele Bindi (Lampre) went down, but did nut hurt himself fortunately.
Right now, the gap between the break and the Columbia-driven bunch is stable around 4 minutes. The descent is over as the riders are on larger and straighter roads again.
The bunch is quite strung out now since the descent of the Alto de Millares, on its way to Xativa. The town was burned down in 1707 by king of Spain Philip V, by the way... a beautiful fortress overlooks the city and its cathedral called Seu. A portrait of Philip V still hangs in the town museum, but turned upside down as Xativa's inhabitants have conserved a grudge against the monarch.
The leader's advantage slowly melts away in the sun, down to 3.30 minutes now. They pass through Navarrés, where a few spectators cheer them on.
To mention it again for all those who just tuned in, Columbia-HTC will have to do without Kim Kirchen, who abandoned very early on in the stage. We are still trying to find out why. The squad is still in complete control of the peloton and will surely try to bring the stage down to a bunch sprint finish for a possible third victory for Andre Greipel.
Frantisek Rabon (Columbia) sits in second position and checks out his road map. Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) is riding just beside Tom Boonen (Quick Step) to the very front of the bunch. They're on a long, flat road now.
The gap is 3.10 minutes.
Marcel Sieberg is distributing some water bottles to his Columbia teammates. The German was the last man to take Greipel to his victory yesterday, and the new race leader thanked him very much for it afterwards.
The bunch is driving through the town of Chella now. There is not one cloud in the perfectly blue sky.
Another small town named Anna is next on the peloton's itinerary. 48 kilometres to go...
The situation is still the same: we have four riders up front at about three minutes, and the peloton closing in softly behind, preparing for a possible bunch sprint.
José Luis Rubiera (astana) is getting some bottles for his teammates. All day, riders have been dropping back to their team cars to get liquid. Plenty of work for the teams assistants, too, filling all of these water bottles - assuming every rider drinks at least 10 during the stage, that makes at least 90 bottles to fill up each morning.
The leaders' advantage dropws under three minutes. They will soon enter Xativa for the first time, and enter the circuit course around town that will take them up the Alto de Beniganim (Cat 3) and finally the Alto de Serragrosa (no Cat) with 10 kilometres to go.
It's actually Tyler Farrar from Garmin that is wearing the points jersey for Greipel, who's got the maillot oro. Second-placed Tom Boonen (QuickStep) is wearing his national champion's jersey, so third-placed Farra gets the honour. We're sure he'd appreciate a stage win more than this...
The bunch is in Xativa now. For those who wonder: the city's name is pronounced without the X, more like "Hativa"...
They cross the finish line for the first time. Nice crowds on a long boulevard sheltered from the sun by plane trees.
The gap is under two minutes now. The riders are still on the flat outskirts of Xativa, but the Beniganim climb will soon start.
The road is starting to ascend in Genovès, where the breakaway is now. The climb is about four kilometres long. The gap is close to one minute, at 1.09.
Pronk has popped of the back as the three Spanish breakaways push on up the road. The gap back to the peloton is dropping back steadily. It's now just 40 seconds.
The race has descended off the Beniganim. Paolo Tiralongo has bridged across to the breakaway; out in front is Tiralongo (Lampre) José Antonio López Gil (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Bingen Fernandez (Cofidis), but not by much...
The peloton isn't going to risk leaving the break to take the final ascent themselves. The gap is less than 10 seconds, with 19km remaining
The average speed for the stage so far has been just 35 km/h. They're averaging 51km/h as they make the dash for home.
The leading trio have been wrapped up. Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre-NGC), José Antonio López Gil (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Bingen Fernandez (Cofidis) are back in the peloton.
Columbia-HTC are pushing the pace as the race goes under the 15km-to-go banner. Some solidarity at the other end of the field as A Vacansoleil rider offers a hand sling to a couple of stragglers. Chapeau
Saxo Bank are now massing alongside the Columbia train. The peloton is stretched over several hundred metres.
World Champion Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-NGC) attacks! Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) links up and the two push on up the climb.
The race is heading uphill, but the ascent is not enough to be classified. Linus Gerdemann looked to be making an attempt to bridge, but he pulls the pin after a few hundred metres.
Breschel and Ballan are making their way down a descent. Lampre riders have been on the attack for the past 15 kilometres, first Tiralongo and now Ballan. They clearly want a result
David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto) has bridged his way across to the leaders and now Philippe Gilbert (Silence Lotto). But the peloton follows soon afterwards.
Gilbert gives it one last little blast but with 5km-to-go it's back together.
David Moncoutie (Cofidis) has seized the initiative. He's off the front of the peloton and has been joined by yet another Vacansoleil rider, it's Johnny Hoogerland.
The bunch are right on their tails as the race re-enters Xativa. Liquigas and Quick Step are the teams on the front.
Tom Boonen (Quick Step) is fifth wheel with less that two kilometres to go. Farrar's there too and a gold jersey.
The big guns have wasted time looking at each other. Vacansoleil's Bozic has gone early!
Farrar scrambles for his wheel, but, no, it's Vacansoleil's Borut Bozic who takes stage six!
1. Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil)
2. Tyler Farrar (Garmin - Slipstream)
3. Daniele Bennati (Liquigas)
No change up the top end of the GC.
General Classification top Four after stage 6:
1. Andre Greipel (Columbia-HTC)
2. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) at 0.06
3. Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) at 0.09
4. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) at 0.09
Thanks for joining us for Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Vuelta a Espana's stage six in Xativa. Join us tomorrow in Valencia as peloton race the clock in the first individual time trial stage.
See you then!