Valverde Takes Stage 6 of Vuelta a Espana, Takes Red Jersey
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is the winner of Stage 6, the 2014 Vuelta a Espana’s first stage with a mountaintop finish. The Spanish veteran powered away from the lead group in the last km to win the 167.1-km ride from Benalmadena to La Zubia in 4:35:27. Chris Froome (Sky) finished second, and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) took third. Valverde has put on the red jersey that he wore after Stage 2.
The riders had to contend with more hot weather today. The heat did not deter Pim Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol) and Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), however. The pair escaped in the first km, and they led by four minutes at 22 km and almost 15 minutes at 50 km. Garmin-Sharp went to the front and began grinding away at the escapees’ advantage. The pair led by 12 minutes at the base of the day’s first climb, the Category 2 Alto de Zafarraya, and by 11 minutes at the summit.
Katusha and Movistar joined Garmin-Sharp at the front, and the gap between bunch and break continued to narrow. With 60 km remaining, the peloton trailed Ligthart and Bonet by 9:20. Fifteen km later, the bunch was 7:42 behind the fugitives, and 6:24 separated the bunch from the break with 30 km to go.
After the first intermediate sprint at 145 km, Orica-GreenEdge went to the front. At this point, the peloton was 4:30 behind the break. The gap had narrowed to less than two minutes with 10 km remaining. The heads of state moved to the front. The break was doomed.
At the base of the Category 1 ascent to the finish, Ligthart and Bonet had 0:20 on the peloton. Ligthart dropped Bonet and went for a solo win. Christophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) attempted to bridge up to the Belgian, but his effort was to no avail, and Katusha led the field up the ascent.
With three km left, Cadel Evans (BMC) was dropped, and one km later, Valverde went to the front to set the pace for teammate Nairo Quintana. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp-POC) slid out of the back. Not long after, Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) dropped out of the lead group, which was down to nine riders with one km left.
With 700 m remaining, Rodriguez attacked. Valverde led Quintana, Chris Froome (Sky), and Contador to the Katusha man. Froome attacked, and Valverde countered. The Spaniard stayed clear for the win.
Valverde’s victory came while he was working for Quintana, but he has demonstrated excellent form in his own right. "This victory means a lot to me,” the Movistar man said. “Though it's harder to feel great with these temperatures, my legs were really good today, I felt well all over the course and I was able to win. It was a climb that really suited me and we couldn't miss such an opportunity had we got it - still, I think everyone saw clearly I was working for Nairo. There was a tailwind on the climb and it was hard for anyone in the main group to go away. They had to stay on our wheel. I was setting a strong pace to take some rivals out of contention, but saving an extra bit of energy in case anyone attacked, as it happened with both Purito and Froome. I never looked back. Nairo and the team car were telling me to keep the pace: 'Only ten or twelve riders behind you.'
“When Purito jumped away, I didn't think about it for a second - I went after him. He's someone we can't let take a single meter. I still had strength to counter and go for the win, so, at the end of the day, we couldn't do better. We took some rivals out of contention, though gaps weren't really huge. We also took some bonus seconds, and the result is fantastic for the whole team. For me, the main leader of the squad is still Nairo, though I don't rule out my own chances. I keep really clear in my mind he'll be doing better and better, and he showed today he's up for the fight. Many mountains will come for him to do great. We get on really well with each other, and I worked my heart out for him today. If I keep feeling well, I'll try and go for some more stage wins, though I keep faith GC-wise. The important thing is that one of us Blues can win the race."
In the overall, Valverde leads Quintana by 0:15 and Contador by 0:18. Stage 7 will not change this state of affairs. The hilly, 169-km ride from Alhendin to Alcaudete will feature a Category 2 climb, a Category 1 ascent, and an uncategorized climb to the finish. A breakaway will take this stage. Who will be in it? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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