Liquigas-Cannondale, the team led by defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, put on a big show of strength in the Vuelta this afternoon, taking four of the first five places on Stage 6 in Cordoba after hammering down the final descent. Peter Sagan was the first man over the line, which earned him a rebuke from Nibali, despite saving the team's blushes as Movistar's Pablo Lastras, who finished second, almost stole the win. Nibali rises to third on GC, while Sylvain Chavanel of Quick Step retains the race leader's red jersey.
It was a bizzare end to the stage, with the apparent confusion among the Liquigas riders contrasting sharply with the way they had seized control of the race on the way down from the Category 2 Alto del Catorce por ciento, perhaps not the most romantically named climb in pro cycling, but one that presumably does what it says on the tin, at least in Spanish.
As he had done over yesterday’s final categorised climb, it was Cofidis rider David Moncoutié, winner of the mountains classification in the last three editions of the Vuelta, who led the race over today's last summit after attacking shortly beforehand in a quest for more climbing points.
Tony Martin of HTC-Highroad was the second man over, and he and the Cofidis man were joined on the descent by Kevin Seeldaeyers of Quick Step and Geox-TMC rider David de la Fuente.
Lastras, winner of Monday’s Stage 3, was the first man to go off in pursuit of the quartet, but behind him, the lime green shirts of Liquigas Cannondale were massing and on an undulating road inside the closing ten kilometres they hit speeds of 90 kilometres an hour as they swept up the breakaway and gained a few vital seconds over the chasing peloton.
Only Lastras proved able to stay with the four men from the Italian team, and the Spaniard very nearly caught them napping, which would have been hugely embarrassing for Liquigas-Cannondale, given their four to one advantage.
Eros Cappecchi had already eased off, and Nibali and Valerio Agnoli were coasting for the line, ahead of Lastras and Sagan. Suddenly, the Movistar man went and passed the two Italians to their right, catching them napping, almost as though they hadn’t realised there was a man from another team with them.
Luckily for Liquigas, Sagan had hung back alongside Lastras and was able to not only respond to the Spaniard’s move, but beat him easily in the sprint for the line, although that did not appear to save him from a tongue lashing from Nibali afterwards.
One rider whose race finished today was the Dane from Rabobank, Matti Breschel, who was taken to hospital after landing on his chin in a crash during the neutralised phase of the stage before the start proper.
Immediately prior to the stage, Breschel had revealed high hopes of putting in a good ride today. “On paper, it is a race for me”, he stated. “I think there will be a breakaway. We’re not going to chase it down because Rabobank has different cards to play and ambitions on GC, so I’m gonna wait for a sprint of 50 to 60 riders.”
Instead, with his injuries subsequently confirmed as including broken bones in his hand, the man who finished second in the UCI Road World Championship in Geelong last year looks like he will miss the chance of going for gold in his native country next month.
Vuelta Stage 6 Result 1 SAGAN, Peter Liquigas Cannondale 4h 38' 22'' 2 LASTRAS, Pablo Movistar Same time 3 AGNOLI, Valerio Liquigas Cannondale " 4 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas Cannondale " 5 CAPECCHI, Eros Liquigas Cannondale + 3'' 6 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek + 17'' 7 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha + 17'' 8 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio Movistar + 17'' 9 MONCOUTIE, David Cofidis + 17'' 10 CHAVANEL, Sylvain Quick Step + 17'' 11 MARTIN, Tony HTC-Highroad + 17'' 12 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 17'' 13 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC + 17'' 14 SEELDRAYERS, Kevin Quick Step + 17'' 15 SCARPONI, Michele Lampre-ISD + 17'' 16 BENNATI, Daniele Leopard Trek + 23'' 17 GAVAZZI, Francesco Lampre-ISD + 23'' 18 GASPAROTTO, Enrico Astana + 23'' 19 MONDORY, Lloyd AG2R + 23'' Vuelta Overall Standings after Stage 6 1 CHAVANEL, Sylvain Quick Step 22h 41' 13'' 2 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 15'' 3 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas Cannondale + 16'' 4 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha + 23'' 5 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek + 25'' 6 KESSIAKOFF, Fredrik Astana + 41'' 7 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 44'' 8 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 49'' 9 PARDILLA, Sergio Movistar + 49'' 10 BRUSEGHIN, Marzio Movistar + 52''
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.