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Vuelta a España 2013: Stage 6


Stage 6 of the Vuelta a España, 175 kilometres from Guijuelo to Cáceres.

114km remaining from 175km

After 10 kilometres, Martin's lead was 1:40 and he continued to power away from the peloton thereafter. He clocked up some 46 kilometres in the first hour of racing and at one point, his lead was touching seven and a half minutes. There's been a slight response from the peloton over the past fifteen kilometres or so, and the gap has drawn in slightly to a shade over six minutes.

There were doubtless plenty of tired bodies in the peloton hoping that Martin would call a halt to his time trial simulation after an hour or so, but the Omega Pharma-QuickStep man has shown no signs of relenting, and so Orica-GreenEdge have begun to put their shoulder to the wheel in the main peloton. New Brunswick's Christian Meier is the man who has stepped up to the plate to lead the chase for GreenEdge.

Orica-GreenEdge have plenty of motivation to chase today, of course. Their fast man Michael Matthews claimed a fine victory at Lago de Sanabria yesterday and he will fancy his chances of repeating the feat if it all comes back together for a sprint this afternoon.

The parcours for today's stage is something of a collector's item, at least as far as this Vuelta is concerned. There are no categorised climbs on the route, which traces the path of the Ruta de la Plata, the ancient commercial route that was believed to have been used primarily for the trade of tin. The road offered a flat north-south route, roughly parallel to the modern Portuguese border, and the access provided later helped the Romans in their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

In turn, the Romans paved and broadened the road to connect the gold mines of Las Medulas and the copper mines of Rio Tinto, and the sprinters will be hoping that it leads them to another kind of precious bounty in Cáceres this afternoon.

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Martin lies over half an hour down on general classification, and so, like yesterday, the Astana squad of race leader Vincenzo Nibali has shown precious little interest in chasing down the day's early break.

It was a day of relative détente for the overall contenders yesterday and that state of affairs ought to continue this afternoon, although the top ten on the general classification remains tightly packed.

The man who finished third in the 1993 Vuelta, Laudelino Cubino, is from the area, and he believes stage 6 ought to be effectively a day off for the GC contenders, particularly given that a tailwind at their backs on the way down to the Ruta de la Plata. “I think that today it will be a quiet stage. In the first 40km, it’s up and down, favorable for attacks but after 40km, it’s dead flat and easy,” Cubino said. “This is actually the first easy stage of the Vuelta. It’s going to be a bunch sprint finish. It’s a tail wind all the way. For the sprinters’ team, it’s very easy to control.”

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Martin will face stiff competition in Tuscany, of course. Bradley Wiggins has built the final part of his season around the Worlds time trial and his victory in the final time trial of the Tour de Pologne was a timely morale boost. Fabian Cancellara will also be in Florence, even if his eyes may be trained on the road race, while Taylor Phinney is aiming to go one better than his silver medal ride in Valkenburg last season.

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Elsewhere, Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) continued his domination of the Tour du Poitou-Charentes this morning, winning his third consecutive stage, although that sequence will surely come to an end in this afternoon's time trial.

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Argos-Shimano have tasted success at the past two Vueltas through the efforts of German fast men Marcel Kittel and John Degenkolb, and they are placing their trust in German neo-professional Nikias Arndt here. Fresh from claiming a stage win at the Artic Race of Norway three weeks ago, Arndt took fourth place on yesterday's stage behind Matthews, Max Richeze (Lampre-Merida) and Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).

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Red jersey Vincenzo Nibali is maintaining a watching brief on affairs near the front of the peloton, ensconced in the middle of a platoon of Astana teammates.

The pace is still relatively relaxed in the main peloton, with riders spread across the road and, as ever, Samuel Sanchez has a smile and wave for the television motorbike when it lingers alongside him.

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Tyler Farrar and his Garmin-Sharp teammate Alex Howes led the bunch through the intermediate sprint. The pace stiffened in the peloton on the approach to the sprint but it has slackened again afterwards and the gap remains steady at 3:50 for now.

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Tony Martin is spending increasing amounts of time out of the saddle as he trundles through open  fields of scorched esparto grass. As one would expect in this particular corner of Spain in late August, there are blue skies and sunshine overhead.

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The stage is beginning to assume a familiar rhythm. As the pace in the peloton gradually begins to pick up, so too does the lone leader's advantage begin to tumble softly. With a buffer of just three minutes and a shade over 40 kilometres to go, the odds are firmly stacked against Martin seeing his solo Odyssey through to the finish in Cáceres.

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With typically impeccable timing, our man in Spain Alasdair Fotheringham caught up with Tony Martin just before the start this morning. You can read Martin's thoughts on the Vuelta and preparing for the Worlds time trial

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Martin has just over two minutes of a lead over the peloton as he enters the final 30 kilometres of the stage. The pace will ratchet up steadily from here on in.

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Martin has now spent 150 kilometres alone at the head of the race, but his advantage is down to just over a minute and his foray off the front is entering its endgame.

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Orica-GreenEdge are attempting to grasp control of the front end of the peloton, while Movistar, Saxo-Tinkoff and Euskaltel-Euskadi are all trying to position their overall contenders. The end result is that the speed in the bunch has shot up and Martin's lead is being steadily stripped away.

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The pace is high in the peloton but as yet, no single team has had the wherewithal to gain control of the peloton. Astana are again on the front in a bid to keep Nibali out of trouble in the finale.

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Martin leads into the final 500 metres. He still has the gap...

The sprint begins behind as Martin tries to hang on for grim life...

The cruellest of defeats for Tony Martin. The sprint engulfs him just 100 metres from the line and Michael Mørkøv (Saxo-Tinkoff) claims the win.

Michael Mørkøv wins the sprint ahead of Max Richeze (Lampre-Merida), Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp), but the story of the day is without doubt Tony Martin, who came across the line in 7th place.

At various points in the final 30 kilometres, Tony Martin's fate looked inevitable, but he railed against the odds so fiercely in the closing ten kilometres that suddenly the balance seemed to tilt back in his favour underneath the red kite. Instead, after 173 kilometres alone off the front, the bunch swept past him just 150 metres from the line.


General classification after stage 6:

The contribution of Martin's time trialling rival Fabian Cancellara in the finishing straight may just have proved fatal to his chances of fending off the bunch, although Mørkøv's turn of pace in the final 200 metres was impressive. Better known for his exploits on the track, the Danish champion Mørkøv has claimed the biggest victory of his career with a tidy sprint.

Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and pictures will follow here and we'll be back with more live coverage from tomorrow's stage from Almendralejo to Mairena del Aljarafe.

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