Vine Wins Stage 6 of La Vuelta a Espana 2022
Stage 6 of La Vuelta a Espana 2022 from Bilbao to Ascensión al Pico Jano / San Miguel de Aguayo saw the Vuelta peloton leave the Basque Country and was contested in mountainous terrain, featuring the category 2 Puerto de Alisas climb, the 6.2-kilometer category 1 Collada de Brenes (8.7% average gradient) climb and concluding at the summit of a challenging 12.6-kilometer climb up the Pico Jano, offering an average gradient of 6.7%, but with some parts being as steep as 9.4% and 9.2% - gradients potentially destined to wreak havoc on the general classification of this year’s Vuelta.
The Pico Jano was featured for the first time in a professional cycling race and lived up to analyst expectations by challenging the Vuelta peloton where two battles were fought in rainy, chilling conditions: one stride for the stage victory and one battle to gain a valuable advantage in the General Classification.
Following the start of the stage, spectators saw and early breakaway form. The group included Mark Padun (EF Education-EasyPost), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Rubén Fernandez (Cofidis), Jan Bakelants (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert), Fausto Masnada (Team QuickStep), Dario Cataldo (Trek-Segafredo), Kaden Groves (Team BikeExchange-Jayco), Marco Brenner (Team DSM), Xandro Meurisse (Alpecin-Deceuninck), and Basque rider Xabier Mikel Azparren of Team Euskaltel-Euskadi.
The breakaway hopefuls approached the first climb of the day – the category 2 Puerto de Alisas – with a five-minute lead on the main peloton where the general classification favorites were sitting tight, hoping to shine late in the stage. Local favorite Azparren did not intend to miss out on the opportunity to give his home crowd a great show, so he took part in the mountain top sprint, hoping to take some valuable points in the best climber classification. Not being a good climber he was, however, beaten by Fernandez and Cataldo.
As the lead of the breakaway increased further, Bakelants was the virtual leader of the Vuelta, but as the main peloton increased its speed to reel in the breakaway group, his hopes of red jersey podium celebrations evaporated in the rainy conditions, which caused several crashes on the tiny roads of mountainous northern Spain. A specific corner took out riders in both the breakaway and main peloton, with Cataldo slipping in the breakaway group, and Norwegian Carl Fredrik Hagen (Israel-Premiertech) crashing when the peloton passed the corner. Hagen laid still on the road, causing many a worry with spectators at home, but eventually finished the stage 36:18 minutes behind the stage winner.
With both the breakaway group and main peloton having reached the first category 1 climb of the day - the Collada de Brenes - the Team QuickStep sports directors decided they were not satisfied with the speed set by the Ineos-Grenadiers team and sent World Champion Julien Alaphillipe to the front, ordering the rider to set a high pace in support of the team’s general classification hopeful Remco Evenepool.
EF-Education First’s Ukrainian rider Padun refused to let himself be reeled in by the chasing main peloton. When the breakaway’s lead on the peloton had been reduced to two minutes, he decided to make a difference on the Collada de Brenes with a powerful attack that left his fellow breakaway compatriots behind. Having won two consecutive mountain stages in last year’s Criterium du Dauphine, Padun is known for his great climbing skills and today was no different. His descending skills are, unfortunately, of lesser quality. Padun, therefore, wasted valuable seconds on the wet descent after having reached the peak of Collada de Brenes in solo fashion. The crucial time loss on the slippy roads would eventually cause Padun’s fight to be in vain.
With Padun further up the road, fellow breakaway compatriot Fernandez had initiated a chase. But Fernandez’ descending skills also lacked quality, so he was caught and left behind by Masnada, whose Belgian outfit had helped him develop better wet condition skills. But Alaphilippe’s vicious chase at the front of the peloton was sufficient to catch the duo as they reached the start of the ultimate climb of the day.
The Pico Jano proved the perfect battleground for general classification hostilities and Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) attacked with ten kilometers to go, but Evenepool and Enric Mas (Movistar) countered and proved stronger than all other general classification favorites, including defending Vuelta Champion Primoz Roglic who struggled in the rainy conditions on the final climb and was unable to keep up with Evenepool, Mas – and UAE-Team Emirates’ 19-year-old Juan Ayuso, who had initiated a chase on his own.
Roglic’s failure to dominate the stage came to much surprise for the many cycling fans that watched him sprint to victory in stage 4, thereby causing many to believe he had confirmed his return to form.
But there were also riders focusing solely on the stage victory. Australia’s Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) attacked solo and left all other riders behind, including the GC favorites, who were busy keeping a watchful eye on each other. The 26-year-old’s powerful attack and fast pace proved sufficient to take the stage victory in stage 6 - the first Grand Tour stage victory of his career and one step beyond his promising performances in May’s Tour of Norway and last year’s Vuelta a Espana.
After 4 hours and 38 minutes of riding, Vine crossed the finish line in foggy conditions. Evenepool followed 15 seconds behind, with Mas on his tail one second later. Roglic finally reached the summit 01:37 behind the stage winner and was joined by Pavel Sivakov (Ineos-Grenadiers), Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos-Grenadiers), Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), Yates, Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), and Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroen). GC favorite Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers) disappointingly lost 02:59 minutes in today’s stage.
Evenepool leads the 2022 Vuelta a Espana following stage 6, with France’s Rudy Molard in 2nd place for his Groupama-FDJ outfit.