The race heads north and heads for new regions. A “transition stage” yes but a subtle finish awaits. As the profile shows today offers an uphill finish, no summit finish but a test between the sprinters and the puncheurs.
Stage 6 Wrap: the first summit finish and the first test. A winning trio with Alejandro Valverde, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. Just behind Joaquim Rodriguez and Nairo Quintana. Are these two a level below? Hard to say, Rodriguez launched the first attack and might have paid for his early acceleration while Nairo Quintana could force the others to respond to Valverde. Still, the Colombian didn’t look incisive and he surrendered time to his rivals and it complicates the leadership issue for Movistar.
Valverde’s win was impressive for the manner it was achieved. Earlier on the climb he appeared to be subordinate to Quintana, setting tempo on the front as riders were going out of the back door like a building was on fire. Despite the effort all the way up Valverde still had the sprint to win.
Do we extrapolate the results over a long climb? Partly yes but other riders will prefer a longer effort and might not have had the punch needed for yesterday’s finish and the heat was a big factor too, things will be cooler as the race heads north.
The prime losers were Wilco Kelderman, Rigoberto Uran, Dani Moreno, Cadel Evans and if you took him for a GC contender, Dan Martin. Otherwise Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Esteban Chaves (Orica) and Fabio Arun (Astana) were close and should feature in the mountains.
The Route: North. The race heads inland and it makes for a hilly stage. The race reaches the finish after just 113km but heads out for a longer loop via the Alto Ahillo, a second category climb which takes the riders close to 1,000m but at a moderate 4%.
The Finish: uphill and if the sprinters are there they might find it hard to cope with the rise. It’s the kind of climb and in-form Peter Sagan would like with 5% for 1.5km until the final 500m where the gradient eases.
The Scenario: the uphill finish isn’t the sprint certainty and some teams with house sprinters won’t be working today. It’s likely FDJ and Giant-Shimano believe in the chances of Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb respectively and even more so for Michael Matthews. But we could well see a stronger breakaway form. As ever a breakaway’s chances can seem dependent on the mood of the bunch but pack an escape with heavy-hitters and the bunch has its work cut out. So look to see if a break gets some big names or if it’s just a wildcard wish.
The Contenders: Michael Matthews is the default choice. He was on team duty yesterday but only late in the stage so he won’t be too tired. The uphill finish is perfect for him. Less so for Nacer Bouhanni and John Degenkolb but they’re both punchy and tenacious riders who can do it; less so for pure sprinters like Andrea Guardini or Moreno Hofland. Otherwise Philippe Gilbert could be in the top-10 and the same for Ag2r’s Lloyd Mondory.
|Philippe Gilbert, Nacer Bouhanni, Oscar Gatto, Alejandro Valverde|
TV: As usual the finish is expected for 5.40pm Euro time.
Daily Díaz: The race passes Montefrío (“cold mountain”) in km 51 of the stage. It is a small rural Andalusian town, but in possession of an architectural oddity. Its Iglesia de la Encarnación has the biggest stone dome in the world. The author, in the 18th century, travelled to Rome and was so impressed by the Pantheon that decided to build a sort of replica in Montefrío. That means there is a much bigger church than the population needed back then. That is not strange to Spain at all. During the construction bubble of the early 2000s, every city and town wanted to build something bigger than their neighbours (even airports where there was no need).
Thanks to cycling podcaster and history teacher Manuel Pérez Díaz for the local information. You can follow him on Twitter as perezdiazmanuel