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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage from stage 6 of the Vuelta, a 175.4km stage from Tarazona to Jaca.
This stage isn’t complicated at all until the final 20km or so. Heading from Rioja into Aragón, it finishes in the winter resort of Jaca. Just before Jaca, the riders will tackle the first of two cat 3 climbs. This is the Puerto de Oroel, which is the highest of the pair but far easier than the Alto Fuerte de Rapitán that quickly follows. The Rapitán looks tougher than most cat 3 ascents, climbing for almost 4km at more than 8 per cent, with sections of 14 per cent and the stage finish at the summit. It will be interesting to see how the flyweight climbers match up against the puncheurs and more powerful riders.
"The contenders will have to be on their guard during the finale of this stage. It finishes in the old part of Jaca after a 3km climb that could be explosive. It will suit power riders and their attacks could split the bunch before the finish."
To bring you right up to speed, we have a five-man group with a 3:09 advantage over a Katusha-led peloton. The leaders formed their break after 10 kilometres of racing, and the peloton seem content to give them a certain amount of rope as we race towards the Pyrenees.
Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp), Joost Van Leijen (Lotto Belisol Team), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team), Pieter Weening (Orica – GreenEdge) and Kristof Vandewalle (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) are the five riders on the attack. That's a decent looking group in terms of horsepower and talent but it will be a big ask to stay clear with the GC battle so close.
Here's where we stood on GC before the start of this stage:
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 17:29:22
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:01
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:05
4 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:09
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
6 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:11
7 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:14
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:24
9 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:36
10 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:46
De Gendt is the highest placed rider on GC, at 07:22 behind Rodriguez. They Spaniard won't want to give the Belgian too much room. De Gendt finished third in this year's Giro and although he started slowly in this race, he's more than a threat for the final week.
“Whoever will approach the climb in a bad position will lose as much time as anyone can lose at Lagos de Covadonga for example. The stage win might be contested between no more than five riders.”
De Gendt spoke at the start of the stage this morning. The Giro podium rider had this to say:
"I want to go for a stage win but I don’t know which day yet. I also want to save energy for the time trial. I have to show myself to get selected for the world championship. I’m sure to do the team time trial world champion with Vacansoleil but I also want to do the individual time trial and the road race for Belgium before I start my honey moon on October 15.” De Gendt got married on July 30 and therefore couldn’t take part in the Tour de France. Now his honeymoon prevents him from taking part in the Chinese races at the end of the season."
Maaskant is in the break. I remember him being a break at the Vuelta a couple of year's ago and losing out to Roux. Anyway, Maaskant will be at Garmin next season but it's going to be a important year for him. With Vanmarcke leaving, Haussler out of contract, Garmin will be looking to the Dutch rider for results in the Classics. He's been 4th in both Flanders and Roubaix but has had injury problems in the last couple of years. If Nuyens signs for the team that could ease the burden.
Interesting fact but Nuyens stayed at the Garmin team hotel at the start of the season. On his own. Purely a coincidence.
44 kilometres raced and the gap is at 3;22. Lets take a brief break from the action and run through some of the news stories from this morning.
Fabian Cancellara will have another op on his shoulder, thus ruling him out of the worlds. This would mean it'll be the first time since the dawn of time he's not won a TT worlds at least once in two years. You can read the story here.
Jan Ullrich, who with the help from the late Vandenbroucke, won the Vuelta in 1999 (still the best edition of the race in the last 20 years, in my opinion) says Sky should have waited for Valverde a couple of stages ago. Agree with him or not, here's the story.
And Dr Michael Ashenden, he of anti-doping fame, has told Cyclingnews that the UCI should work with USADA and not against them in the case involving Lance Armstrong. Ashenden also talks about whether a positive test could have been covered up.
In transfer news, Petacchi will sit down to thrash out a new deal with Lampre. Rumour was he was heading to join De Gendt but his agent has said that's just a rumour and nothing more.
Some cross-winds on the route for the break, while their advantage drifts outs out 3:25, with 55 kms raced.
Weening, 31, is of course the last Dutch rider to win a stage of the Tour de France. That was back in 2005, when the race went from Germany to a stage finish in Gérardmer. Weening edged out Kloden, and I think Valverde was a distant third that day too.
Weening's worn the maglia rosa since then but 2012 has been a bit of a struggle for him. He's had a couple of top tens but his Tour was disappointing.
Leijen, he's a solid domestique and former teammate of De Gendt. He signed for Lotto at the start of the year and this is his first grand tour.
The break is still tapping along nicely and they've managed to gain a few more seconds, bring their lead up to a heady 3:48.
Weening has a problem with his Scott bike and needs assistance at the moment. Back at the head of the bunch and Katusha continue to control the pace duties. Today's final climb a good chance for Rodriguez to extend his lead in GC. There's talk that he might try and lose his race lead though and give another team the responsibility of controlling the race for the coming few days.
Daniel Moreno, Rodriguez' teammate, is another rider tipped for the win today. However wining the stage, and collecting the 20 bonus seconds could move him into the race lead, depending on where Froome and Rodriguez finish.
Valverde, after losing the leader's jersey two days ago, could be the biggest threat. He's 36 seconds down but clearly in form after his strong ride at Arrate and even up to Estación de Valdezcaray.
Meana and Teklehaymanot have both crashed in the bunch. We'll bring you an update on the pair as soon as we can.
We've been racing for two hours, covered just under 80 kilometres and the five-man break holds around a 3minute lead on the bunch.
Meana and Teklehaymanot have both made it back to the safety of the peloton. The leaders, meanwhile, have a gap of 2:55.
Not much more to report on from the bunch, with Katusha still keeping tabs on the escape. The break are about to go through the feedzone though, with their gap back up to 3:20.
72 km to go and the bunch are now passing through the feedzone. The action won't really start until the two climbs. The descent from the first climb is technical and will be crucial for positioning ahead of the final climb to the finish.
The bunch are starting to stretch out already with Katusha on the front. The cross-winds are picking up so this could be an ideal opportunity to try and split the field.
Maaskant takes his turn on the front of the break. De Gendt is back in fourth wheel, with Weening just behind him.
Can't quite imagine Rodriguez willingly giving up his race lead after Katusha do all of this work on the front. The gap at 3:07, with 63 kilometres to go.
Valverde and Rodriguez have a few words and then Valverde rides straight to the front with his Movistar teammates with him.
The pace has dropped from the bunch and the gap has gone out to 3:32. It looks like Valverde advised the Katusha leader to ease off.
Valverde's advice has had an affect with the gap going out to 4:09. This could push Sky into hitting the front.
Both Katusha and Movistar are on the front though with Valverde right on the front of the Movistar train..
Van Leijen is struggling a bit at the back of the break. They're on a section of false flat and he takes a rest behind a team car before rejoining the leaders.
The gap is still holding at around 3:30, with perfect pace setting from Katusha and Movistar.Van Leijen is still hanging on so we've effectively four riders contributing to the effort in the break.
Weening looks good. Weening has taken a big turn on the front.
A touch of wheels at the back of the bunch with a Cofidis rider and Cataldo forced to chase back.
Flecha has been back at the team Sky car. He'll look to move up near the front and help Froome stay out of trouble.
30km to go and Van Leijen is dangling off the back of the lead group.
The Lotto rider comes through and take a turn as the road levels out but the bunch are eating into the lead and it's down to 2:43.
The bunch have again lined out as we close in on the first climb as Saxo Bank have joined the pace setting on the front. The gap is down to 1:50.
And Van Leijen has blown and he's been caught and passed by the bunch.
Rabon and a number of other riders have been dropped from the bunch.
23km to go and the gap has come down to 1:23.
Quintana has been doing most of the damage on the front of the bunch. BMC have put their riders near the front too. Gilbert and Ballan for the stage? Long shots.
KOM leader Simon Clarke has been dropped.
30km to go in the Vuelta and Saxo, Movistar + Katusha bringing break back. A climb with 13 hairpin bends to a hilltop fortress awaits.
@inrng Thu, 23rd Aug 2012 16:09:33
Contador has put three men on the front and you can see his bobbing head just a few riders back as he climbs out of the saddle.
Van den Broeck, Lotto, is right at the back of the peloton. He'll look to actually lose more time and try for a stage later in the race.
Saxo let Sky do some of the work but they're back on the front of the peloton again.
Saxo Bank are turning the screw, trying to put the rest of the field under as much pressure as possible.
Maaskant has blown as so has Vandewalle. That leaves De Gendt and Weening up the road.
And de Gendt has dropped Weening now too.
De Gendt is on the descent of the penultimate climb and has 48 seconds on the Saxo-led peloton.
Saxo aren't going full gas on the descent but they'll be looking to take up the pace again once they're on the final climb. This might give De Gendt a chance of winning the stage.
Just 13 km remaining as De Gendt sprints out of each corner on the descent. He's still holding 42 seconds.
Saxo have increased the pace again. 11km to go.
They're racing at 78kph as they descend and head towards the final climb to the finish.
7km to go with the gap at around 25-30 seconds. Contador has his troops on the front. Sky are moving up, as Gadret is dropped.
The gap is 13 seconds.
Movistar move up as Sky try and push the pace.
It's virtually a sprint just to reach the foot of the climb near the front.
Lastras is on the front, Cunego is there too.
As De Gendt starts the climb.
5km to go. Saxo Bank have moved off the front for now.
Froome, Valverde Roche, Contador, Rodriguez, they're all there. Moreno too.
Rojas is setting the pace for Valverde
Froome is in second wheel
De Gendt has been caught.
The main field has started to split but no attacks from the favourites yet.
Sky are doing the pace work with Uran leading, Froome on his wheel.
And Anton has been dropped again.
Roche looks to be struggling, with 2km to go.
And Mollema has been dropped.
Three Sky riders still on the front.
Contador is on Rodriguez's wheel
Valverde is there too and Gesink has been dropped too.
Cobo is at the back of the leading group.
1km to go.
As Cobo starts to lose ground.
Sky still have three men on the front and they're upping the pace again.
Just 500 to go.
And Froome takes it up
Only Rodriguez has gone with him. Contador and Valverde dropped.
And Rodriguez comes through and takes the win
Froome is second.
Valverde is third and Contador is fourth.
Contador didn't look his usual self on the climb and he was marking riders on the lower slopes. When Froome moved the front after the work from Uran he was unable to follow.
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
4 Alberto Contador (Esp) Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank
5 Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
6 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale
Here's where we stand on GC after stage 6. A good day for Rodriguez, Froome but Contador was dropped at the end on a climb that he should have been able to match Froome on.
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 21:45:06
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:10
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:35
4 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:43
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:53
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:54
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:04
8 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:12
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:17
10 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:34
Thanks for joining us today. Remember you can find our race report, photos and results, right here.