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Welcome to live coverage of stage 6 of the Vuelta a Espana. The riders have just rolled out of Huercal-Overa and are making their way through the 6.3km neutral zone.
A little bit of house keeping before we get underway. Race leader Rudy Molard was docked 20 seconds for taking a bottle from his team car inside the final 20km. His gap over Michal Kwiatkowski is now just 41 seconds.
1 Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 18:27:40
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky 00:00:41
3 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 00:00:48
4 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott 00:00:51
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:53
6 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb 00:01:06
7 Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 00:01:11
8 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 00:01:14
9 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 00:01:14
10 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo 00:01:18
Nacer Bouhanni was also among those on yesterday's naughty list. Spanish publication AS initially reported that Bouhanni had been docked 30 seconds for hitting his team car and DS, but the team categorically denied the accusation this morning. You can read the full story here.
After the two successive days where the breakaway took the honours, today is expected to be one for the sprinters. It's much more of a traditional sprint day than we had on stage 3 with just a couple of cat 3s to contend with.
The flag dropped just a few moments ago and we already have three riders on the attack. There is no surprise in me saying that Luis Angel Mate is one of them. Jorge Cubero (Burgos BH) is one of them and, wait for it, Richie Porte (BMC Racing) is the third.
It looks like this is the move of the day as the gap grows out very quickly to a minute. I can't quite believe that Porte would chose a flat day such as today to have a go in the break, but there we are... Penance for his final Grand Tour as a BMC rider?
150km remaining from 155km
The trio have 2:30 on the peloton now. Today's start is wildly contrasting to yesterday's, which saw riders trying to form a break for well over an hour before anything actually stuck. Groupama-FDJ will be happy with this, they can now enjoy a slightly calmer day protecting the red jersey.
Richie Porte is well down in the overall standings - he sits 41 minutes behind Molard in the GC. He spoke to the press this morning about getting a new perspective on the race, though he didn't mention going in the breakaway.
"Coming in, I didn’t have a really run in so I was always honest with my ambitions and that was to ride for preparation for the Worlds. Day by day, I am starting to feel better.
"I think it’s sometimes good [to be at the back]. You learn the most from bad races. Two days ag, I was in the gruppetto, which was a new thing. It was nice to ride up the hill and see the fans and the party atmosphere and normally I don’t get to see that."
As Porte says, his ambitions lie at the World Championships at the end of next month. While it might be a bit strange to see him in the move, he's going to get much better training out front than pootling along in the peloton. Also, there is less chance of incident with so many few riders around.
FDJ are getting a lot of help in the peloton at the moment from Quick-Step Floors. The Belgian team is looking for their second victory this week after Viviani's sprint win on Monday.
It is, of course, little surprise to see Luis Angel Mate in the breakaway today. He has been in the 'fuga' every day but one, after he decided to take a break yesterday. He currently leads the mountains classification. With a maximum of six points on offer today, he is secure in the jersey no matter what.
1 Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 36 pts
2 Pierre Rolland (Fra) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale 20
3 Benjamin King (USA) Dimension Data 12
4 Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale 7
5 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo 6
6 Nikita Stalnov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team 6
7 Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal 5
8 Nans Peters (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 4
9 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 3
10 Stephane Rossetto (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 3
Mate might be wondering where Pierre Rolland is today. Rolland was in the break with Mate on the opening three stages. Mate even joked on twitter about coming down to breakfast to find Rolland waiting for him. The Frenchman has obviously decided to leave it for another day. Possibly waiting for a more fruitful day for mountains points, or saving his energy for a day he's more likely to win on.
The gap to the escapees went up to close to four minutes but it has now been reduced to just under three by Quick-Step. They're making sure this one doesn't go the whole distance.
Trek-Segafredo is also helping to pull on the front. They almost had a stage win yesterday with Bauke Mollema and they have a shot with Giacomo Nizzolo today. He came close to Viviani a few days ago, but I'd put my money on the Quick-Step rider doing it again today.
It seems a perfect time to note that Bauke Mollema extended his contract with Trek-Segafredo. The Dutchman will be with the team for at least another two seasons. Red more about that here.
119km remaining from 155km
With the combined efforts of FDJ, Quick-Step and Trek, the gap to the three leaders has dropped to just 2:25. Will they try to bring them back early or are they just being over-cautious?
At the moment, the peloton is moving across the south-east coast of Spain in the Murcia region. Today's finish town of San Javier is just half an hour down the road from the hometown of Alejandro Valverde, which is on the outskirts of the city of Murcia. Valverde will certainly get a massive cheer along the way.
Luis Leon Sanchez is also from Murcia. He is not racing at the Vuelta after breaking his elbow at the Tour de France. He visited the race a few days ago, however, and showed off the mighty fine scar on his elbow.
Speaking of broken bones... Luke Rowe has been ruled out of the rest of the season after braking his wrist in a crash at the European Championships. It's a bit frustrating for the Welshman but not as serious an injury as the one that ended his 2017 campaign. Read the full story here.
After an hour of racing, the pace has been a relatively modest 38kph average. Yesterday was well ahead of schedule and this pace is a good chunk under the slowest predicted speed. Nevertheless, the peloton is strung out in a long line.
The gap to the escapees has stabalised at 2:44 with Quick-Step Floors continuing to control the front of the peloton.
The first climb of the day is coming up for the riders. The Alto del Garrobillo is 3.8k and has an average gradient of 5.7 per cent.
Elia Viviani looking comfortable in the peloton at the moment. He's got plenty of confidence going into today but is wary of his rivals, particularly Peter Sagan.
“We’re a strong team. Today we’ll control, not like yesterday. It was too hard for us but today we’ll try. We want to win, that’s for sure," Viviani said this morning. "We need to be active from the start, make sure a break of 4 or 5 riders get ahead. In the last 20-30km there could be some wind so we’ll be careful and then it will be about having the best lead-out possible with Sabatini and Morkov.
"We know that if we do everything right we’ll win. But you never know. You can plan everything but the problem is to deliver. There are good sprinters here. Sagan is getting better day by day.”
There are some hints of echelons in the peloton as the wind picks up a tad. They're near the sea, which always makes crosswinds a possibility. The peloton is still together but it could break up if the wind gets any stronger.
Today is not just a big day for Rudy Molard, but for the FDJ team too. It is the first time that Marc Madiot's team has held a Grand Tour leader's jersey in more than a decade. Brad McGee was the last FDJ rider to wear a leader's jersey when he wore the gold jersey, as it was back then, at the 2005 Vuelta a Espana.
If taking the red jersey wasn't enough for Molard, it was announced yesterday evening that he had signed a two-year extension with the team. You'd imagine that the contract was sorted prior to yesterday but taking red will certainly build confidence at the team.
This is Molard's second season with the FDJ squad after signing with them last season. Prior to that, the 28-year-old had been with Cofidis after turning professional with them in 2012. This season has been a good one for Molard after he took the biggest victory of his career with a hard-fought solo effort at Paris-Nice. This stint in red is arguably bigger than that win.
It's looking pretty relaxed in the peloton at the moment. Simon Yates has been back chatting with the team car and Gorka Izagirre is back to collect some bidons for the team. No bottles down the jersey, he's got one of those bidon vests that make the riders look like one of those people who try and sell you fake watches out of their coat.
Meanwhile, the leaders are on the one climb of the day. You'd expect Mate to take the points at the top without much contest.
As expected, Mate leads the escapees over the top of the climb to take the full points. Mate is now on 37 points in the mountains classification.
One rider in the break I haven't spoken much about today is Jorge Cubero. The 25-year-old is from Andalucia, where the race has just left, and is making his Vuelta a Espana debut. He has been with the Burgos BH team for the past three seasons. This is the first time that he's been in the breakaway at the race.
88km remaining from 155km
With just under 90km to go, the breakaway now has almost four minutes. The gap has been bouncing up and down as the peloton pushes on and eases off.
At the start of this month, it was announced that Aqua Blue had bought out Sniper Cycling - the company that runs the Verandas Willems-Crelan squad. That was swiftly denied by Sniper Cycling, who have now announced they will merge with the Roompot team for 2019. Read the full story here.
Matteo Trentin prefers the trickier finales but the European Champion could be a contender today. He believes that Viviani is the man to beat.
“It should be wrestling because there’s headwind until the last 30-40km," Trentin told the race website. "We are gonna have a full sprinter team leading the pack today, and we are gonna try to take our chance in the end. Going against Viviani is gonna be difficult, because nobody has really figured out how to beat him this season. Of course he is the man to beat, the man to watch and we’re gonna try.”
I mentioned the Veranda's Willems-Crelan and Roompot deal to merge next season. There had ben talks with Aqua Blue, but the Irish team announced on Monday that they would fold, despite owner Rick Delaney saying that the team was secured for four years (which would have been until 2020). Patrick Fletcher and Daniel Benson have had a look into the demise of the team and you can read the full story here.
78km remaining from 155km
As we trundle along in the blazing heat, the gap to our three escapees has come down quite a bit. They have just 2:05 on the bunch.
The riders have been taking it a bit easier today after a very fast day yesterday. We're currently about 30 minutes behind schedule.
It's lunch time for the riders and the riders are currently digging through their musettes to see what treats await. Amanuel Ghebreigzabhier Werkilu has nabbed himself three musettes. He's either very hungry or he's collected some extra for his teammates.
Further up north, stage 2 of the Boels Ladies Tour has just finished with Amalie Dideriksen taking the win ahead of Lorena Wiebes, who is going very well at the moment. You can see the top 10 below and we'll soon have full results and a report for you here.
1 Amalie Dideriksen (Den) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam 2:58:57
2 Lorena Wiebes (Ned) Parkhotel Valkenburg
3 Jolien D'Hoore (Bel) Mitchelton Scott Women
4 Maria Giulia Confalonieri (Ita) Valcar PBM
5 Amy Pieters (Ned) Boels Dolmans Cyclingteam
6 Marta Bastianelli (Ita) Ale Cipollini
7 Lotte Kopecky (Bel) Lotto Soudal Ladies
8 Mieke Kröger (Ger) Team Virtu Cycling
9 Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned) Mitchelton Scott Women
10 Christina Malling Siggaard (Den) Team Virtu Cycling
It continues to be Trek, with Mathias Brandle, FDJ, with Antoine Duchesne, and Quick-Step, with Pieter Serry, controlling the front of the peloton. Race leader Molard is sitting directly in the middle of his FDJ train.
Somehow, we've still got 69 kilometres to go in this stage. Like an accordion, the gap between the leaders and the peloton keeps going in and out. It seems all but certain that we are going to end today with a bunch gallop.
As we've got plenty of time, let's take a look at the potential contenders for today. Elia Viviani is on the tip of everyone's tongue when discussing sprint finishes. The Italian won four stages of the Giro d'Italia and already has one in the bag here. In fact, he's won more races/stages than anyone else this season and he's hoping to end the 2018 season at the top of the victory ranking. I wouldn't count against him.
Peter Sagan is another obvious contender for victory today. Sagan finished third in Alhaurin de la Torre on stage 3 and is improving as the days go on. He has been recovering from that high-speed crash he suffered at the end of the Tour de France, but his back problems are diminishing as time goes on.
Next is Giacomo Nizzolo, who was the closest rider to beating Viviani a few days ago. After an injury-plagued 2017, it has been another challenging year for Nizzolo. He won in San Juan in January but knee problems set him back later in the spring. He did manage third at RideLondon at the end of July and has had a few close calls since then but has not found himself on the top step since Argentina at the start of the year.
Mitchelton-Scott have two potential cards to play today in Matteo Trentin and Luka Mezgec. Trentin, who finished eighth on stage 3 and was in the breakaway today, is likely to be the number one card, but we'll have to wait and see.
Danny van Poppel is the main man for LottoNL-Jumbo today. Van Poppel has just two sprint wins today but he has had a lot of close calls, particularly at the Giro d'Italia in May. He finished sixth earlier in the week and stands a chance if he can get his positioning right.
Nacer Bouhanni will be desperate to get something out of the Vuelta a Espana to put a difficult year behind him. He will also be fired up after the reports overnight that he'd been fined for thumping his team car and his DS. That was later denied in no uncertain terms by Bouhanni and his team. The Frenchman was fourth on Monday and said prior to the Vuelta that he was coming into top form. It remains to be seen if he can turn that into a victory.
They are the biggest names that will be duking it out int he finale today but there are a few other riders to keep an eye out for. Ryan Gibbons (Dimension Data), Simone Consonni (UAE Team Emirates), Marc Sarreau (Groupama-FDJ) and Tom van Asbroeck (EF Education First-Drapac). Could any of these guys spring a surprise?
The leaders are approaching the second climb of the day, the Alto del Cedacero. It is four kilometres at an average gradient of 6.2 per cent. After that, there is the intermediate sprint at Cartagena.
A mechanical problem for Ian Boswell. The bunch is going so slowly that there is no stress for the American as he gets a new back wheel. Boswell is showing the injuries he sustained in a crash earlier in the race.
As we drop under the 50km to go marker, the gap to our three escapees is 2:22. Once again, Mate has mopped up the points at the top of the KOM to nudge out his lead in the mountains classification.
We are currently heading east to Cartagena. Tomorrow's stage, which starts at Puerto Lumbreras,is also in Murcia but we'll be heading through the centre of Spain over the weekend, ahead of the first rest day.
45km remaining from 155km
There has been a massive uptick in the pace being set and our three plucky leaders have just a minute on the peloton now. Is the peloton interested in taking points/bonus seconds at the intermediate?
The gap is continuing to drop rapidly and the leaders have just 31 seconds. Duchesne is leading the peloton and setting a fast pace.
A few glances between the leaders, they know that their day is almost over.
Maybe not. The peloton has sit up a bit as Quick-Step Floors move to the front and the gap has gone out a bit to 30 seconds.
A few teams were not too keen in bringing back the break just yet. There is still 35k to go and catching the break too early would likely lead to more attacks and burning energy trying to keep control of it. The leaders now have a minute on the bunch behind.
At the intermediate sprint, Cuberto took the full points, followed by Mate and then Porte.
33km remaining from 155km
We're on some big wide roads at the moment, which is allowing plenty of jostling for position in the peloton. There are some turns in the final kilometres but it is not too technical.
As the peloton closes down the breakaway again, Cubero goes on the attack. Mate and Porte have sat up and are now back with the peloton.
Mate and Porte looked at each other as Cubero attacked and quickly decided it wasn't worth their effort to chase him down. For Cubero, the additional TV coverage is good for his team but the other two have everything they wanted from getting in the break, Mate the mountains points and Porte the slightly harder miles in the legs.
It's a long way to go for Cubero on his own and the peloton is quickly closing in on him. He had 30 seconds briefly, but he has just 10 now as Team Sky and Movistar start increasing the pace.
That is it from Cubero, he is brought back by the peloton and it is now gruppo compatto.
Team Sky and EF-Drapac have taken to the front, with the pace faster than it's been all day. In the middle of the peloton Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) and Mike Teunissen (Team Sunweb) are caught up in a crash on an unsighted traffic island.
The peloton has split after the crash, with Dimension Data leading the second group on the road some 10-15 seconds behind the lined out peloton. Meanwhile, Bora-Hansgrohe have taken to the front of the peloton for Peter Sagan.
Bora-Hansgrohe have really put on the pace as the wind blows from the left-hand side of the road. We're in for some unexpected echelon action as we head into the final 20km.
Bora-Hansgrohe have really put on the pace as the wind blows from the left-hand side of the road. We're in for some unexpected echelon action as we head into the final 20km.
Wilco Kelderman stops at the side of the road with a mechanical. With the pace already fully on, his fifth place on GC (1:06 behind Rudy Molard) will be under threat if he can't chase back on.
Kelderman is in the cars with teammate Martijn Tusveld, currently languishing 1:25 behind the front group of around 40 riders. He could lose major time today.
EF-Drapac head back to the front, lining out the peloton. In the fourth group on the road, Kelderman now has four Sunweb teammates with him, and they seem to closing in on group three, which contains Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
With just 11km remaining and multiple teams riding for a sprint finish, as well as those riding to gain time on Pinot and Kelderman, the GC duo aren't going to make it back before the finish.
We're now into the final 10 kilometres of today's stage and this has been an unexpectedly frenetic finale. Quick-Step is really pushing a hard pace.
Rudy Molard is in that leading group but he has now teammates as they're all back looking after Thibaut Pinot. The GC rider is now 1:20 back on this leading group. That is a big loss for the Frenchman.
The Wilco Kelderman group has just caught the Pinot group. It's about damage limitation for them at the moment.
5km remaining from 155km
The other major GC contenders are in the front group, Lopez, Izagirre, Bennett, Kruijswijk, Quintana, Uran and Kwiatkowski. Of the sprinters, Viviani, Sagan, Trentin and Bouhanni are up there. I have not seen Nizzolo just yet.
There is a lot of shouting and disagreement in the chase group. Groupama-FDJ and Sunweb are hammering it on the front but the gap is still 1:36.
The leaders are approaching the three-kilometre mark, where the riders will not lose any time if they have any issues in the final three kilometres.
Nibali is now pushing on the front, working for his teammate Ion Izagirre. They want to rule Pinot and Kelderman out of the GC fight.
0km remaining from 155km
1:30 the gap between the two groups as Team Sky and now Bora-Hansgrohe come to the front.
Kwiatkowski has moved towards the front. He's got De La Cruz in his wheel.
1km remaining from 155km
The group is shedding riders with this pace
Under the flamme rouge now
The peloton rounds a roundabout and Quick-Step take it up to line Vivivani up for the sprint.
One of the AG2R riders has gone early
Trentin takes it up
Trentin took it up early but Bouhanni had too much pace. Viviani was well out of it.
The Kelderman/Pinot group comes across the line and they've lost 1:44 on the leading group. That is a huge loss.
Meanwhile, just behind the finish line, some barriers have just blown across the road and taken a few riders out, including Sergio Henao.
Here is the top 10 from that stage
1 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 3:58:35
2 Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
3 Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors
4 Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
5 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
6 Ivan Garcia (Spa) Bahrain-Merida
7 Omar Fraile (Spa) Astana Pro Team
8 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team
9 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
10 Michael Mørkøv (Den) Quick-Step Floors
Wilco Kelderman has dropped out of the top 10 after missing out on that split as Enric Mas moves into it.
1 Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 22:26:15
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky 0:00:41
3 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe 0:00:48
4 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott 0:00:51
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:53
6 Ion Izagirre (Spa) Bahrain-Merida 0:01:11
7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:14
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:01:14
9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo 0:01:18
10 Enric Mas (Spa) Quick-Step Floors 0:01:23
That is a big win for Nacer Bouhanni after a challenging year. He missed selection for the Tour de France and he came to the Vuelta a Espana with a lot to prove.
The usually infallible Quick-Step Floors got it all wrong today. Viviani found himself right at the back of a group of six sprinters and did a good job diving around the side in the final metres but he was never going to overhaul Bouhanni.
All of the riders have crossed the line with Victor Campenaerts and Tom Leezer the last riders over 8:02 back on the leading group. Campenaerts was the rider who crashed first on that unsighted bit of road furniture.
You can find full results, photos and the report from today's stage here.
Wilco Kelderman lost a lot of time today. He made it through that crash but had an issue with his brakes that meant he had to change his bike.
“It was already a really hectic stage because of the side-tailwind. We went into a village and there was a crash in front of me and Mike," he said. "I managed to brake but Mike unfortunately crashed. I carried on riding but my back wheel was really rubbing on my brakes. Initially I was still there but the bunch went full gas and after the bike change I had already lost a minute or so. The team did an awesome job but of course I’m really disappointed. Luckily I didn’t crash and still have good legs. The Vuelta is not over yet so we will see what happens in the upcoming days.”
Don't forget, you can catch up on the Boels Ladies Tour with our stage 2 report here.
Though he didn't win today, Elia Viviani moved closer to Michal Kwiatkowski in the points competition today. The Italian is just seven points shy of the Polishman.
Rudy Molard has another day in the red jersey.
Our full report and full results are live and you can get those here. That is all from our live coverage of stage 6 of the Vuelta a Espana. Tune in tomorrow for more from the final Grand Tour of the season
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