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Vuelta a España 2014: Stage 6

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Welcome to live coverage of stage 6 of the Vuelta a España from Benalmádena to La Zubia.

It's another hot day here at the Vuelta as the riders get underway in Benalmádena. All 198 made the start today and are currently riding through the 9.2-kilometre neutral zone.

Today sees the first of eight summit finishes at this year's Vuelta a España. You can read Alasdair Fotheringham's preview of stage six right here.

As we said, today's category one climb La Zubia is the first summit finish of the Vuelta. However, the riders have two more climbs to tackle before they can consider La Zubia. Here is what the parcours looks like today.

The big news this morning is that the Vuelta a Espana will return to the south for next year's start. The 2015 race will begin in the province of Malaga, so we can expect the soaring temperatures once again.

It is a tad cooler today than it has been for the last week, with the mercury settling at 29 degrees for now. We can expect it to get a little hotter as the day progresses however. The forecast is predicting temperatures of up to 36 degrees, but it could get even hotter than that.

The flag has been dropped for racing to begin. Europcar rider and stage 4 escapee Sebastian Turgot had a small accident during the neutralized section, but he is back inside the peloton.

A small reminder of how things finished yesterday. John Degenkolb was the undeniable victor in Ronda, although Nacer Bouhanni had a few words to say about it. This is what the top 10 looked like on stage 5.

166km remaining from 167km

Lloyd Mondory, Elia Favili and Thibaut Pinot have set off in chase of our leading pair. The gaps are quite small at the moment, with Ligthart and Mas Bonet only holding a 19 second advantage on the peloton.

Those of you who followed yesterday's stage will remember Ligthart as the man who tried to beat the peloton on his own. He put in a valiant effort, but succumbed to the speed of the peloton behind on the final climb.

It's still our duo out front with a gap of 44 seconds now. However the chasing group has changed complexion. The riders trying to make the break are Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Jimmy Engoulvent (Europcar), Johan le Bon (FDJ.fr).

Luis Mas Bonet (Caja-Rural) is on the hunt for the mountains classification points today. He currently leads the competition but with 18 points available it could easily be taken from him.

150km remaining from 167km

With our summit finish today, Michael Matthews will likely have to hand over his red jersey to someone else. Sitting in second behind him and the most likely contender to assume the role as race leader is Nairo Quintana.

Joaquim Rodríguez will be one of the contenders in today's finish. The punchy climber will be in his element on La Zubia. Here is what he had to say at the start today:

145km remaining from 167km

Thibaut Pinot made a brief appearance in one of the chasing groups earlier on. He's had a slow start to the Vuelta a España after finishing third at this year's Tour de France. The Frenchman says that he's been suffering in the soaring heat this week, but still has ambitions on a stage win. Cyclingnews' Barry Ryan spoke to him yesterday and here is what he had to say.

We're still a little while off the first climb of the day and the gap to the two escapees continues to grow. Más Bonet and Ligthart now hold a 8:45 advantage over the peloton, who don't seem to concerned about the gap.

Of our two escapees, Más Bonet is the best placed. The Spaniard is in 79th place in the general classification, 13:59 behind Michael Matthews.

Today's finish should give us our first indication as to who is on form and will feature highly in the general classification come the final day time trial. You can watch our video of the top 10 riders to watch here. We expect that most of them will have a part to play later today, but what do you think? Let us know your predictions for today and the whole race on twitter on @Cyclingnewsfeed and @SadhbhOS.

Michael Matthews has dominated the spotlight for Orica-GreenEdge this week, but today could be a chance for his younger teammate Esteban Chaves to shine. The Colombian is making his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta, but has been putting some very good performances throughout this season. Here is what he had to say after yesterday's stage.

Orica directeur sportif Neil Stephen also had this to say at the start this morning.

125km remaining from 167km

Outside of the Vuelta, news came through today from WADA that Xenon and Argon gas have both been officially added to their list of banned substances. You can read the full story here.

As the gap soars to 14:22 for the leaders, it is Garmin-Sharp that have taken up the pace setting. The team nearly saw all their chances at a good GC performance go up in smoke in the crosswinds yesterday. Fortunately for them, Dan Martin was able to bridge the gap and salvage something. He is their best hope in the GC now.

117km remaining from 167km

After their efforts yesterday, it will be interesting to see what Tinkoff-Saxo do today. They made good use of the crosswinds yesterday to really put the hurt on some of the GC contenders. After the stage yesterday, Contador said, "we had to try something."

The first climb of the day is the Alto de Zafarraya. It's a 12-kilometre ascent that averages 5.9% and maxes out at 11% just after the midway point.

117km remaining from 167km

In the run-up to the Vuelta, Nairo Quintana has been the man most named as race favourite, among fans and peers. The Colombian was in fine fettle at the Vuelta a Burgos earlier in the month and says that he continues to grow in form at the Vuelta. However, Quintana says that today's summit finish might be a little earlier for him to do some damage. Do you believe him, or is he bluffing? You decide, read what he had to say here.

While the riders continue to ascend this climb, let's take a closer look at our two escapees. Pim Ligthart was our sole escapee yesterday. He was initially joined by Tony Martin, but a puncture put paid to the German's day in the break. Ligthart is a former Dutch national road race champion and won the mountains classification at Paris-Nice earlier this year. He also spent a day in the Vuelta's mountains jersey before handing it over to the eventual winner Simon Clarke.

25-year-old Lluis Más Bonet turned professional this season with Caja Rural. Más Bonet is from Ses Salines in Majorca and rode for the Burgos - Catilla y Leon team until making the move to Caja Rural. He's been an agressive rider so far this Vuelta a España and leads the mountain competition. He is yet to take his first professional victory this season.

95km remaining from 167km

The two leaders crest the Alto de Zafarraya with a lead of 11 minutes. We await the official results of the climb, but we can assume that Ligthart was kind enough to allow Más Bonet take the points at the top.

While the official top of the climb has been given, the riders will continue to climb for another 8 kilometres before the descent comes.

Katusha is now helping with efforts at the front of the peloton, after Garmin put in a lot of work earlier on. The gap to the two leaders has fallen to 10:09 after a maximum gap of over 14 minutes.

The official results from the first climb of the day have come through and it was indeed Mas Bonet who took the five points at the top of the climb, followed by Ligthart and Jerome Cousin.

Away from the Vuelta a España and Thomas Lofkvist has announced his retirement from cycling at the end of this season.

It's Garmin again on the front of the peloton, they seem really up for it today. Are they trying to set Dan Martin up for something? The final climb could favour the Irishman.

In this heat, drinking as much water as possible is important. Tinkoff-Saxo have been showing off their nifty little carrier to make life easier for their domestiques.

MTN-Qhubeka is reporting that Merhawi Kudus has been involved in a crash, although he is ok and back with the peloton. The Eritrean climber is one of those that could cause an upset today.

55km remaining from 167km

The peloton is strung out on this short descent. Garmin continue to track these two leaders down. Their gap is hovering around 8:40 for now.

51km remaining from 167km

Today should see our first big shake-up in the general classification, while Michael Matthews is likely to lose his leader's jersey. Here is what the general classification looked like this morning.

45km remaining from 167km

40km remaining from 167km

35km remaining from 167km

Today's two intermediate sprints come in quick succession. The first comes in around 13km at 21km to go, the second is just six kilometres later. After Chris Froome went for the bonus seconds available yesterday, will we see any of the GC guys going for it today.

The road splits and a few riders end up going the long way around. Fortunately they were able to rejoin the rest of the peloton without being forced to dismount.

One more climb for the riders today. It's a narrow one. This photo of the final climb was posted on twitter earlier today.

One more climb for the riders today. It's a narrow one. This photo of the final climb was posted on twitter earlier today.

26km remaining from 167km

Kudus calls for the car and pulls over t the side of the road. It looks like he's going for a bike change. the MTN-Qhubeka rider hit the deck after the first climb and has a few bandages on his elbows.

There's quite a bit of wind around and there is a dust devil spinning around to the left of the peloton.

20km remaining from 167km

13km to the final climb of the day for the two leaders. It's a doozy... Here is what they face

John Degenkolb takes the final points available at the intermediate sprint and extends his lead in the points competition over Nacer Bouhanni.

Orica-GreenEdge has taken to the front. They could be doing one of two things; setting up Matthews for the next intermediate sprint or putting Chaves in position for an attack on the final climb.

14km remaining from 167km

A mechanical problem for Cunego. He gets a wheel from Richeze but it takes some time and the peloton has gone.

Want to know about the climb of La Zubia? Find all the info you need in our preview of today's stage.

GreenEdge continue to work on the front and they look almost like they're leading out for a sprint. They've brought the advantage down to 2:24.

8km remaining from 167km

Race leader Michael Matthews is sitting second in line at the moment. It's only a short climb, but he's going to have a tough job keeping hold of his 13 second lead. It'll have to be a huge effort from him to keep hold of the red jersey by the end of the day.

6km remaining from 167km

Peter Sagan has been dropped before the bottom of this climb.

A lot of riders have fallen foul of this fast pace. There must only be 40 riders left in this main group.

The leaders are onto the final climb. They've got a slim advantage of 12 seconds.

Ligthart has dropped Mas Bonet and goes it alone. He wants the combativity prize for the second day running.

Le Mevel attacks from the peloton

3km remaining from 167km

All together now with 2.9km to go

Ligthart is shelled out the back of the peloton almost as quickly as he was caught. His day is done.

With 2.7km to go Evans is in trouble as he is dropped.

One of the Cannondale riders attacks, but Garmin reel him back in.

Quintana and Valverde are having discussions on the front of the peloton, before Valverde takes up the pace setting.

2km remaining from 167km

Dan Martin cracks. He has fallen off the back of this main group.

Froome, Rodriguez, Aru and Contador all in this main group as Sanchez and Kelderman are the next to be in trouble.

1km remaining from 167km

1km remaining from 167km

It looks like Sky has Nieve in that group as well as the go under the flamme rouge.

The riders are going up the left hand side of the road, while Froome decides to take his position on the right.

Rodriguez attacks

Valverde sets off in chase of Rodriguez

Froome and Contador are coming back to them

Froome attacks

Quintana is dropped

Valverde wins

Valverde sprints to victory, Froome in second, Contador third, Rodriguez fourth and Quintana fifth.

It was a good ding dong battle between the favourites there. Rodriguez began it all with Valverde setting off in chase. Froome brought Contador and Quintana back to that front group, but nobody had an answer to Valverde when he sprinted for the line.

Valverde began the day in third place and should move into the race lead again.

After that exciting finish. Here is the top 10 at the top of La Zubia.

There were a lot of general classification riders that lost out on that climb. Contador may have said he wasn't targeting the GC at the Vuelta, but he's definitely shown that he is more than up for it with that performance.

Interesting to see Quintana getting dropped towards the end of that climb. He did say after yesterday's stage that this summit finish may be too early for him and he showed that was the case. Let's hope that he can continue to ride himself into form and play a big role in the general classification fight.

We promised you a bit of a shake-up in the GC and here it is. Valverde now loads his teammate Quintana by 15 seconds.

Don't forget to go to our Vuelta page for full results, report and gallery from today's stage. You can find that here.

Tomorrow stage of the Vuelta could be one for the the likes of Degenkolb and Matthews, with an uncategorised uphill finish to Alacudete. Or perhaps the breakaway could finally get lucky.

It is going to be another scorcher again tomorrow, with temperatures expected to be well into the 30s.

That is all from us today, but stay tuned to Cyclingnews for all the reaction from today's stages and come back tomorrow for live coverage of stage 7.

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