"Rising from the city's heart is Montjuich, the magic mountain where from its crest, one can see why this Spanish coastal city is favoured by so many, open to the sea and embracing its rich inheritance and identity," reads the Tour de France guide of Barcelona.
Leading to the two-kilometre-long finishing climb on a miserable, rain-soaked Thursday afternoon, Thor Hushovd rose from the depths of the peloton, bided his time, then in the last 200 metres, ripped out the hearts of his adversaries with an unmatched final turn of speed, firmly establishing his first-year Cervélo TestTeam as a green jersey contender at the 2009 Tour de France.
"I think I know what I can do, and when I see stages like this I get really motivated," said Hushovd when asked about his uncanny knack of predicting - then winning - stages that he knows he can do well in. Hushovd comfortably outsprinted Rabobank's Oscar Freire and Jose Joaquin Rojas of Caisse d'Epargne to claim his first Tour stage win since the second stage of the 2008 Grande Boucle.
"I get my head together to be strong. I just know that finishes like this one or the one last year fit me well - and if they are the only chances I have to win, then I have to take them," he said, now just one point off the lead of Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) in the battle for the green jersey.
Despite being his seventh Tour de France stage victory and having been points champion in 2005, Hushovd - known as the "God of Thunder" for his preternatural power - was overlooked by many as a possible stage winner and therefore potential green jersey victor, largely due to the dominance of Columbia-HTC's Cavendish, who's won two stages so far. But the Norwegian wasn't bothered, and if anyone is going to topple the maillot vert from the Isle of Man this year, it's him.
"In the first week, [Carlos] Sastre gave me the chance to do what I wanted, so now I will try to support him," Hushovd said. "Of course, the green jersey is really important but we also have to help Sastre as much as we can."
Andorra Arcalis looms: Can Cancellara hold on?
Crossing the line in tenth place was the maillot jaune of Fabian Cancellara (Team Saxo Bank). The top six positions and relative times on the General Classification remained unchanged after Thursday's stage.
However, before Friday's first major mountain appointment to the 2,240-metre summit of Andorra Arcalis, there were some significant shuffles as Astana's Haimar Zubeldia, Garmin-Slipstream's Dave Zabriskie and his teammate David Millar - the stage protagonist caught just one kilometre from the line - lost their positions on the leader board's top-10, elevating Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Slipstream), Gustav Larsson (Saxo Bank) and Maxime Monfort (Columbia-HTC) to eighth, ninth and tenth overall, respectively.
"I rode with my heart instead of my head," said Millar, who wore the combative jersey of the day's most aggressive rider. "With 10km to go, I thought the peloton would still be disorganised, but with five kilometres to go, I said to myself, 'Oh no, it's over'."
"I don't want to think about tomorrow," said Cancellara of the crucial day that lies ahead, "just recover from today, because it was a really difficult stage with a crazy finish. Then I'll start thinking.
"But it's a good question and a question I have to ask myself. I know there are far better climbers like the Schleck brothers, but I will defend the jersey as much as I can. I don't know how well I can do. Now I have to help the team, but it's not a problem - it's been a great week in yellow. The real stages are coming. We will see Team Saxo Bank in the front, that's for sure," he said.
Girona - the city Americans call home
Beginning from the Spanish university town so many American riders have called home the past decade, the peloton, 177-strong at the start in Girona, faced a stage of medium difficulty before Friday's inevitable smack-down to Andorra Arcalis.
Comprising five categorised climbs that included a trio of Cat. 4s and a pair of Cat. 3s littered along the 181.five-kilometre route, it was the perfect parcours for a small escape, and after 46km and a flurry of unsuccessful moves, a break of three eventually stuck. British rider and Girona local David Millar of Garmin-Slipstream was first to go, followed by Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) and moments later, Stéphane Augé (Cofidis), making it another break that favoured the French - so long as they made it to Barcelona.
Unlike the stage before, when a group of six established a near-10-minute lead, 3:27 was the most Thursday's trio got 65km into the stage. Still, it temporarily placed Millar, the best-placed rider on GC in the break, 1:07 behind Cancellara at the start of the day, into the virtual malliot jaune.
As the grey clouds above gave way to rain, it seemed to not bother them, and 70-km from the finish, they received some welcome horsepower when Euskaltel-Euskadi's Amets Txurruka bridged to the front trio, the peloton 1:42 in arrears. A few clicks later, when Augé led the quartet over the Cat. 4 climb of the Collesacreu at the 110-km mark, it guaranteed the Frenchman the polka-dot jersey by the day's end.
Some 30km from Barcelona and back in the peloton, a crash exiting a roundabout saw Cervélo's Heinrich Haussler, Michael Rogers (Columbia-HTC) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) go down; with a limping Rogers very slow to return to his machine.
With 29km to go, Millar attacked down the left side of the road on a false flat, his breakaway companions unable to respond. Four kilometres later, he enjoyed a one-minute lead, his advantage remaining steady still 10km after that, chased only by Augé (Cofidis) and Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), with Chavanel (Quick Step) dropped.
Forward on the saddle and hunched low over his bars, Millar gave his all. But Thursday in Barcelona, his all was not quite enough, and the charging peloton caught just a kilometre out. That led to a frenzied uphill sprint that proved perfect for Hushovd.
For images of stage six click here
|1||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||4:21:33|
|2||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre - NGC||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Quick Step||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence - Lotto||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Martijn Maaskant (Ned) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Maxime Monfort (Bel) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo Bank||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Kim Kirchen (Lux) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre - NGC||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step||0:00:09|
|45||Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Romain Feillu (Fra) Agritubel||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Astana||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team||0:00:15|
|49||Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas||0:00:39|
|50||Koen de Kort (Ned) Skil-Shimano||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team Katusha||0:00:46|
|52||Arnaud Coyot (Fra) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Sebastian Lang (Ger) Silence - Lotto||0:00:50|
|54||Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team Saxo Bank||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|58||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Stéphane Goubert (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence - Lotto||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Spa) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Jussi Veikkanen (Fin) Française des Jeux||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Brice Feillu (Fra) Agritubel||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) Astana||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Marcus Fothen (Ger) Team Milram||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Rabobank||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Thierry Huppond (Fra) Skil-Shimano||0:00:58|
|70||Nikolai Troussov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 69 - Cell 2|