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Stage Six is a tricky one: perfect for a breakaway, and with that flat finish in Murcia, it ought to be one for the sprinters. If only it weren't for that Category Two ranked climb only 17km from the finish line.....
Hello and welcome back to the Vuelta a Espana. We continue trekking to the east today, to Murcia, home of Alejandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez (only one of whom is in this race....)
As usual, a break goup got away early. Today's group features Markus Eichler (Milram), Juan Javier Estrada (Andalucia) and Freddy Bichot (Bbox). Their gap is now 5:20, down from a high of 9:17.
Cofidis is leading the chase, and has brought the gap down to 5:20.
We have an interesting profile, today, most of it being downhill. Other than that we might call it “rolling”. Up until 20km to go, that is: then it goes up a category two ranked climb. Once down again, it is almost perfectly flat to the end.
The finish line today is on the Avenida Miguel Indurain. Now where have we heard that name before....
Cofidis is still leading the chase and has brought the gap down, but the three in front are hanging on. The gap has stablized at 4:38.
That climb at the end is the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo. It has an average gradient of 4.36%., and has a fairly technical descent.
Rain was forecast as a possiblity today, but fortunately that was wrong. We have sunshine again, and currently 31° Celsius.
We're at the half-way mark now, and the peloton passes through the feeding zone. Philippe Gilbert is happy to have a cold can of Coca-Cola.
The day's first intermediate sprint came early on, and went to Eichler, ahead of Estrada and Bichot.
Nicolas Roche of AG2R tweeted this morning, ”tricky descent to finish today. Reckon a 50 man bunch sprint!”
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) continues to sport the leader's natty red jersey, ahead of Igor Anton (Euskaltel) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha).
The laterne rouge – how do you say that in spanish? – by the way, is Julian Dean of Garmin-Transitions, who is 1:13:33 down.
Anton leads in the points classification, with Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) jumping to second place ahead of Gilbert. Serafin Martinez (Xacobo Galicia) still leads the mountain ranking, and Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Doimo leds the combativity ranking. Caisse d'Epargne is the top team.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) pays a visit to the medical car.
Former Kelme rider Alexis Rodriguez described the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo: “It’s very very hard on a distance of 3 kilometres. Sprinters can’t make it. The downhill is very complicated. The surface of the road is bad. There are many curves. As a classics’ rider, Philippe Gilbert is able to go up there with the best riders.”
Race leader Philippe Gilbert didn’t hide that he might try to win a second stage. “It could happen”, he said. “I know the climb since the Vuelta last year, so I know it suits me well.”
The gap has stretched back up to over six minutes. The chances of this group staying away to the end are looking better.
A lot of people mentioned Filippo Pozzato as the hottest favourite for today. “I went to reconnoitre the end of the stage this morning”, the Italian said. “The finale is hard. The climb is longer than the one in stage 12 that I won at the Giro but it’s a good one for me. The Katusha team will work for me today. I hear a rumour saying that Freire wants to try and win today as well.”
Did we say the gap was going up and the group might get through? We jinxed them by mentioning it. The gap has already dropped to 5:12.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne) would love to take the win today in his home town. He wasn't originally scheduled to ride the Vuelta this year though, stepping in only when team captain Alejandro Valverde was suspended. And he hasn't yet said which time he will ride for next season. You cancatch up on it here.
And the gap continues to plummet -- it is now under 4:30.
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is one of the sprinters who could make it today but the winner of Milan-San Remo doesn’t include himself in the list of the favourites. “My goal is to be the world champion in one month (October 3rd)”, he said. “I would also like to win a stage at the Vuelta but with the form I have now, I won’t be able to do it today.”
The Milram car visits Eichler as the gap is now only 3:40.
Katusha leads the peloton -- is this stage one for Joaquin Rodriguez?
Philippe Gilbert, or Phil, as the team calls him, is very much enjoying his first leader's jersey in a Grand Tour. And although he only re-did his contract with Omega Pharma-Lotto this spring, he will get a new (and, we assume, improved) contract should he win the Worlds next month. More here.
Who do the experts here at Cyclingnews think will win today? I am picking Oscar Freire. Stephen Farrand likes Pozzato's chances, while Laura Weislo thinks Luis Leon Sanchez will have the best legs.
Another minute has been lost -- the gap is 2:44.
The chasing peloton takes on a roundabout, with a number of riders going up on the sidewalk.
We have a crash, two riders have gone down. One is from Rabobank, and he is still trying to get his bike back in order.
It is Laurens Ten Dam. He is going again but his bike is still not in order.
Ten Dam has really ripped up the back of his jersey. We hope he hasn't equally ripped up his back.
AStna moves to the front of the field, with Saxo Bank now jumping into the lead.
The end of today’s stage is well known by Simon Gerrans who won in Murcia last year after passing the Alto de la Cresta del Gallo. He outsprinted Ryder Hesjedal, Jakob Fuglsang and Alexandre Vinokourov. “From our breakaway group of 17, Linus Gerdemann attacked in that climb but he punctured right at the top just when the four of us caught him”, the Australian remembered. “Some sprinters can make it over that climb but we can’t compare with last year. Today’s stage is short and still early in the race. And I won’t win in Murcia again. I’ve been so sick on day 3 that I’ll take it easy until the first rest day. I’m feeling much better though.”
The leadwork keeps changing hands, with Liquigas now taking a turn.
The gap is now 1:59 at the second intermediate sprint.
The climb will start in a few kms. Will the three be caught before then or on the way up?
Bernie Eisel of HTC-Columbia was going to pull sprints for Mark Cavendish at the Vuelta and further use it to get into shape for the Worlds. That is, until an intestinal infection forced him out in only the fourth stage. Now the Austrian isn't sure he'll be able to get in enough racing to get ready for the Worlds.
Now it is Rabobank at the head of the chase. The gap is still just over a minute.
The peloton is really turning on the speed.
Under a minute now, and the three leaders take off up the climb.
Eichler drops back. He is not the climber that the other two are.
Bichot is now alone in the lead, as Estrada can't keep up with him either.
HTC-Columbia's Peter Velits is near the front of the field, in second place.
Bichot seems determined to make this on his own.
Bichot has 36 seconds on the peloton.
Eichler is now caught by the field. Bichot is now the only one forward.
ANd that was it for Bichot. He is caught. Kolobnev leads the way, followed by Gilbert.
The lead group is no longer the full peloton. And Bichot falls off the bck of this group, along with Dave Zabriskie of Garmin-Transitions.
THe peloton is still pretty good sized, actually, maybe about 50 riders?
Gilbert is having no trouble here on this narrow road. He is following Katusha's Vladimir Karpets.
This is a narrow, curving road. Not terribly steep, but enough.
They hit the top, all together. Karpets leads the way.
And down they all head. This descent is said to be a hard one, let's see what happens.
Karpets is off by himself in the lead. Gilbert gives chase.
No one is taking it easy here. They are really flying down. Gilbert and Karpets are together.
NO, that is POzzato who is now with Gilbert.
Te field is right behind them now, and they are gathered back in.
Another rider has broken out to seek his chance -- it is someone from Astana, yes, Fofonov.
Looks like all the big names are still in the leading group. Fofonov now has 11 seconds on the group.
Remember, from the bottom on to the finish line it is basically flat.
Fofonov continues to defend his lead at the 10 km marker.
A series of turns and corners here, lots of fun at this high speed.
CN's Laura Weislo has changed her mind and now likes Thor Hushovd to win today.
AT the nine km marker, Fofonov's lead is nine seconds.
Fofonov stays away longer.....
But no longer. He is caught with 7.4km to go.
Barredo attacks out of the field.
The QuickStep Italian has a small lead.
He too is caught. Karpets and Cervelo lead the charge. Hushovd is looming near the front.
Sastre doesn't want to be part of a possible sprint, and is near the back of the pack.
The group has gotten larger again, much larger. Will the sprinters be there to take their chances?
BEnnati is near the front now, with a number of Liquigas teammates.
A BBox rider attacks!
But he too is caught.
Karpets continues to grind along in the lead, at 51km/h.
A Caisse d'Epargne rider is the next to go, or does he just move to the front of the field?
Gilbert now third behind two teammates.
The final km.
Pozzato, Hushvod, Davis -- all near the front.
Gilbert sprints with them, with Hushovd as big as a bull charging along.
And the Norwegian champion takes the victory. THe first to congratulate him is Gilbert.
Daniele Bennati of Liquigas was second and Lampre's Grega Bole was third.
That is Hushovd's third Vuelta stage win in his career.
A handful of riders, led by two from Footon-Servetto, are only now coming over the finish line.
Gilbert finished sixth on the stage, so he easily held on to the leader's jersey.
No changes in the top of the GC rankings.
Thanks for reading along today. Be sure to join us again tomorrow for stage seven!