Nacer Bouhanni has his first stage win of the 2018 Vuelta a Espana. The Cofidis rider took the stage win out of the race’s second consecutive bunch sprint ahead of Danny van Poppel and Elia Viviani. George Bennett advanced up the general classification to 11th overall after Wilco Kelderman & Thibaut Pinot lost time.
Porte infiltrates the breakaway
Stage 6 from Huércal-Overa to San Javier. Mar Menor was a comparatively short 155.7km in length and took in just two category 3 climbs before the flat run in to the finish. For the first time in this year’s Vuelta it was one of the pre-race favourites who took his place in the breakaway. Luis Angel Mate of Cofidis and Jorge Cubero of Burgos-BH were joined by Richie Porte of BMC Racing. The Tasmanian was expected to shine in the GC battle, but after losing huge amounts of time earlier in the race his GC challenge had crumbled and he was now free to infiltrate breakaways.
Together the trio worked to build a gap of around 3.48 minutes with Groupama-FDJ now taking control of matters in the bunch for new race leader of the Vuelta; Rudy Molard. Molard hadn’t been free of controversy overnight, with his race lead being slashed by the commissaires down to just 41 seconds following the discovery that he’d taken on nutrition illegally the day before. He was subsequently docked 20 seconds of time by the race officials.
At the feed zone with 75km remaining the time gap to the three leaders was down to just over 2 minutes; and with the opportunities for sprinters few and far between it was never likely that the break would survive out in front. Nevertheless it was far from a wasted exercise for Luis Angel Mate who took maximum points at both categorised climbs.
Crash drama sees Pinot lose ground
For the first time in this year’s Vuelta contenders for the race lead would suffer serious misfortune caused by crashes. With 40km of racing to go the gap was down to just 30 seconds. With 33km to go Cubero launched a solo attack as Mate and Porte allowed themselves to be swallowed up by the peloton. At this stage the gap was sitting at a slender 27 seconds. But the drama would come shortly after Cubero was caught.
With 26km to go the intensity in the race increased with EF Education First-Drapac driving the peloton. Bollards in the middle of the road brought down a few riders, with Fabio Felline f Trek-Segafredo appearing to come off worst. Victor Campenaerts of Lotto Soudal was the first to go down, with Tom Leezer of LottoNL-Jumbo also hitting the deck. By this point though the peloton were at full flight, and though Louis Meintjes and Thibaut Pinot did not crash, they were held up in the sprint and now found themselves on the wrong end of the split.
Kelderman mechanical causes alarm
The drama was not over yet either as Wilco Kelderman was brought to a halt with a mechanical issue. The Dutchman came to a stop and ended up chasing to get back on with the Pinot-Meintjes group at 1.28mins to the peloton. At the front of the much-reduced peloton Team Sky, EF Education First-Drapac and UAE Team Emirates were all pushing the tempo.
10km from the finish the gap to Pinot’s group was at 1.11mins, with Kelderman a further 22 seconds back. Cofidis, EF Education First-Drapac and Mitchelton-Scott were all piling on the pace at the front of the race, but the peloton they were a part of had been whittled down to some 30-40 riders. With so many riders not present in the peloton it was really hard to discern any major control of the race. UAE Team Emirates and even the green jersey of Michal Kwiatkowski were seen leading the peloton. Behind them Kelderman had caught up with Pinot and Meintjes and were now 1.32mins behind with 1.4km to go. Team Sunweb and Groupama-FDJ were a united force.
After the peloton successfully navigated the roundabout with 1km to go Quick-Step Floors held the lead of the peloton. But suddenly a late attack from Tony Gallopin threatened to spoil it all. Matteo Trentin led out the sprint though with Gallopin caught. On his wheel though was Bouhanni and the Frenchman darted passed the Italian and despite Danny van Poppel closing in the Frenchman had done enough to secure the stage. Van Poppel took second with a rather more quiet Viviani in third place.
Wilco Kelderman and Thibaut Pinot conceded 1.44mins in the end, dropping out of the top ten, and seeing George Bennett climb to 11th overall at 1.26mins to Molard.