Orica-BikeExchange have their first stage win of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana. While brother Adam starred in the Tour de France, today Simon Yates took his chance today to launch a late attack and grab the stage win ahead of Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana and Fabio Felline and Trek-Segafredo.
It was hard to say exactly who stage 6 would suit best. It was a rocking and rolling stage throughout. 163.2km in length from Monforte de Lemos to Luintra. Ribeira Sacra, the race featured just the one category 2 climb, but that didn’t mean there were not plenty of other rises to contend with. One thing was certain, a breakaway would have a field day.
A delayed breakaway eventually forms
The stage got off to a very quick start, with several candidates looking to attack and gap the peloton. However, with Movistar, Etixx-Quick Step and Cannondale-Drapac all contributing to the early pace setting nothing was allowed to go clear for more than 40km. In fact it took almost 50km for a break to properly establish itself. In the move were Valerio Conti of Lampre-Merida, Kevin Reza of FDJ, Andrey Zeits of Astana, Mathias Frank of IAM Cycling, Omar Fraile of Dimension Data, Alberto Losada of Katusha, Gert Dockx of Lotto Soudal, Gregor Muhlberger of Bora-Argon18 and his teammate José Mendes; and Laurent Didier of Trek-Segafredo.
Didier and Reza came into the stage off of the back of a brilliant showing in stage 5, where they finished second and third respectively behind Gianni Meersman. With the break now settled ahead of the race, 2.30mins ahead with 100km left to race, BMC Racing took control of the front of the race with their race leader – Darwin Atapuma – in tow.
It was interesting to note that the break’s advantage was not a large one, still just 2.30mins as they hit the feed zone with just under 80km left to race. That gap stabilised somewhat until Orica-BikeExchange took over from BMC Racing, and injected a little more urgency into the chase. Sam Bewley was there initially, before dropping off as the road went up. Up ahead things were changing too as Omar Fraile of Dimension Data attacked and went off up the road solo.
Fraile launches a solo effort
No one was challenging Fraile, and he was free to attack, building up his lead over the peloton again to nearly three minutes as he crested the summit of the Alto Alenza. The rest of the survivors of the break were a minute back on him and it was uncertain whether they would be able to rejoin. Orica-BikeExchange remained in control of the peloton but Fraile’s commitment was clear, he was hungry for success today.
Approaching 42km to go, the road suddenly narrowed and the narrowing of the road resulted in a bit of a battle at the front of the peloton for positioning the road little more than a car’s width across. Tinkoff eventually won the battle for the front of the pack, and in doing so brought the gap back down to Fraile to 2.36mins at the 41km to go mark. Omar Fraile, however, was still gaining steadily on his former breakaway companions on the run in to the next uncategorised climb.
Behind him the chase effort was seeing a couple of risky moves taken, and that nearly saw Laurent Didier come off around one corner, and then did see Alberto Losada come to a standstill as he overcooked one turn; thankfully though he did not tumble off. The pace in the pack was high too, with Patrick Bevin visible and just managing to hold pace with the Tinkoff-led bunch. They’d narrowed the gap to Fraile down to 2.04mins with 34km left. 42 seconds ahead of the pack were the chasing quartet of Didier, Frank, Zeits and Bakelants; the last remnants of the breakaway to still be surviving ahead of the peloton.
After Tinkoff had their stint on the front, Movistar moved forward en masse to take over. 28km from the finish they still had 2.12mins to make up on Fraile and were just over a minute down on the chasing group. 4km later the gap had been reduced somewhat to 1.47mins as Laurent Didier, visibly suffering a little from dehydration, dropped off the chasing group; leaving just three between Movistar’s peloton and Omar Fraile who was still tapping out a constant rhythm.
Frank’s counter move comes close
The three chasers were beginning to sense that they had a chance to catch their former companion. Fraile’s lead with 21.5km to go had been cut to just 34 seconds; making him quite visible on the straight sections; which still remained few and far between with a number of tight technical turns still very present. With 20km to go Mathias Frank attacked and began to put the hurt on Andrey Zeits who was beginning to struggle to hold the pace.
While Frank’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful in dropping either of his chasing group companions, they were successful in finally bringing Omar Fraile back with 19km left to race. The gap now was just 1 minute to the peloton. No sooner had the catch been made than Mathias Frank attacked again, distancing everyone and going off alone.
Movistar were holding the gap to Frank at just under a minute and with 14.4km to go they were just 28 seconds behind Zeits and Bakelants. They still had a short climb to navigate before the downhill run in towards the finish and Frank was being resilient. With 11km to go the gap was still at 1 minute and it was going to be a very close call for the Swiss rider. Zeits and Bakelants were now 34 seconds ahead of the peloton, and faced with a chance of staying clear of the pack themselves.
Through 10km to go Mathias Frank still held 1 minute, and despite Movistar’s best efforts the gap wasn’t coming down quickly. Finally the gap did dip below 1 minute, with Frank’s lead being reduced to 47 seconds with 8km left. Zeits and Bakelants still fought in no man’s land. Behind them a crash at the back of the field brought down Bart de Clerq of Lotto Soudal as well as Louis Meintjes.
Meanwhile Frank’s lead was now 24 seconds to the two chasers Zeits and Bakelants with 7km left to race. The final climb was now beginning to bite for the field and it proved too much for Zeits and Bakelants who now were well within the sights of the Movistar-led peloton. They survived under 5km to go but were then quickly mopped up; leaving the peloton just one rider left to catch.
Simon Yates makes winning attack
The gap had dropped to 25 seconds for Frank and after a valiant effort it looked pretty ominous for him too. His efforts weren’t helped by an attack from Daniel Moreno of Movistar. He was countered by Simon Yates of Orica-BikeExchange who leapt across to join him, and quickly mop up the remaining seconds to Frank. Ben Hermans from BMC Racing also tried to get across but to no avail initially. 4km now remained for Frank, but the new chasers were fresher, with Yates significantly more so; as he dropped Moreno and advanced onwards to catch Frank with 3.7km left to race.
After getting on his back wheel Yates lifted the pace again to go solo off the front while Frank could only watch and slip back. It looked like Yates’ move might’ve been timed to perfection. No one was able to go with him, although Ben Hermans and Daniel Moreno both tried to. They were now part of a chasing trio with Mathias Frank joining them; but they were chasing a gradually more distant target as Yates began to stretch his lead to 22 seconds with 2km left to race.
Coming into town Simon Yates was under the 1km to go banner and looking strong, his lead was almost 30 seconds to the three chasers who were being caught by another couple of rider who’d escaped the peloton. The jersey was zipped up for Yates with just under 100m to go and he celebrated over the line with Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana coming through for second, he was one of the escapees who managed to get across to the Frank group.
Fabio Felline of Trek-Segafredo finished third ahead of Ben Hermans, with FDJ’s Kenny Elissonde completing the top 5. Daniel Moreno took sixth, and the gutsy Mathias Frank didn’t win but did manage to cross the line for sixth place on the line.
Overall Darwin Atapuma continues to lead the Vuelta a Espana, with 28 seconds in hand over Alejandro Valverde. With Steven Kruijswijk now out of the Vuelta, George Bennett takes over as the highest placed LottoNL-Jumbo rider, moving up to 23rd overall with his ride today, 3.09 mins down on the red jersey.