Sandwiched between two summit finishes, this stage that's just shy of 200 kilometres in length has "breakaway" written all over it, although the punchier riders in the Vuelta peloton such as world champion Alejandro Valverde, CCC's Patrick Bevin and Deceuninck's Philippe Gilbert will fancy their chances of success if the escapees do get reeled in and the main group contests the day's spoils.
There are four categorised climbs, two at either end of the stage. The opening pair are the biggest, the second-category Puerto de Nogueruelas topping out at 1,535 metres, while the third-category Puerto de Linares is the day six's high point at 1,665 metres. From the Linares, the race drops steadily to the intermediate sprint at Catí, two-thirds of the way into the stage.
Over the final 35 kilometres, the route twists and turns incessantly, and begins to climb again, with two third-category ascents ahead. The first, the Puerto de Culla, little more than 4km in length and averaging less than six per cent, is the easier of the pair. The final test up to the first-time hill-top finish of Ares del Maestrat, which provides a magnificent setting, is almost twice as long. If the break already has the stage won, the peloton should breeze up the village atop this huge bluff, but if the escapees have been or are close to being caught, the hot pace up to the finish will split the peloton to pieces, although the GC favourites shouldn't have any problems coping with it.
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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