Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ.fr has taken his second stage win in the 2014 Vuelta on a day when strong winds forced splits in the peloton but the overall contenders all came home in the front group despite a late scare for Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.
The Colombian was briefly caught out after Tinkoff-Saxo forced the pace to take advantage of crosswinds inside the final 10km of the 207km stage from Baeza to Albacete, but fought hard to get back into the front group.
Earlier, it had been Team Sky that had forced a split, although the men who are likely to contest the overall over the next fortnight, including race leader Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador, were all in the front group.
On Wednesday’s Stage 5, Bouhanni remonstrated with Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb as he felt the German had slammed the door shut on him, drifting across and leaving him no way through on the barriers.
This afternoon, however, the FDJ.fr rider, winner of the points classification at the Giro d’Italia in May, gave as good as he got and this time it was Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEdge who perhaps had cause for complaint as he was beaten into second place, with Canondale’s Peter Sagan third.
Following the stage, Bouhanni said: "I came to the Vuelta for winning at least one stage. Tonight, I’ve bagged two. I was very disappointed to come second in the last sprint because I had the legs for winning. I got boxed in. I was determined to win today. I remained very focused in the finale. I knew there was a head wind to finish but I launched my sprint from far out, at about 300 metres, and I resisted."
Asked how that defeat on Wednesday affected his tactics today, he said: "The last 50 kilometres were long and difficult. Geoffrey Soupe was with me in the finale. We lost each other in the sprint. It’s true that I wanted to launch the sprint before Degenkolb. Usually when I start at 200 metres, it’s difficult to pass me but today, it was at 300 metres. I didn’t figure out very well where the line was. I seized an opportunity to go but in a standard sprint, I would have waited for 300 metres more."
Respondong to the question whether he is the world's best sprinter, he said: "It would be pretentious to say so. I’m among the best but I won’t come up with a ranking."
Team Sky's Froome said: "It’s a relief to have this stage behind us. Fortunately the team was fantastic, keeping me always up front. Luke Rowe did a massive job there in the echelons. All the guys did a super job. I was never in trouble. That’s what we wanted in case of echelons.
"Now there’s a hill top finish to come tomorrow. I definitely don’t have the form I had for the Tour de France but I feel decent. I’m not in the situation of deciding how the race will unfold. It’ll be more about following the favorites uphill tomorrow: Quintana, Valverde, Rodriguez and Contador.”
Movitar's Nairo Quintana added: "I came across the group and there was a split. I’ve had to bridge a gap by myself once but the second one, I could not. Some of my team-mates have been left behind and the only one left out was Alejandro (Valverde).
"Giant has helped us to come across the second time. There was a common interest. Fortunately we were able to catch the first group again and save the stage. We have met the objective of the day that consisted in completing the stage without wasting time."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.