Today will finally see the mountain men come to the fore as the peloton are given the task of finishing up a Category 1 climb for the first time this year. Passing along the coast to Malaga early on, the riders will then begin to head inland once again as they tackle the 167.1km route from Benalmádena to La Zubia. Hopefully temperatures will begin to drop today as the altitudes begin to soar, though seeing salt stained jersey will remain commonplace for now.
It is all very simple to begin with on Stage 6, between 50km-60km will have to pass before the riders begin searching for their mountain legs upon the approach to Provincia de Granada’s Category 2 climb. A typically Spanish run of roads then follows, whether nose down descending or eyes up climbing, it will not be until around the 125km mark that the riders will see flat tarmac once more. This only serves as respite, including the two intermediate sprints spaced at a bizarre 8km apart, en route to the expected showdown upon the Category 1 Alto Cumbres Verdes.
Stage 6 is interesting bait for riders to say the least, we should see the first emergence of a select group comprised solely of the mountain goats aiming for GC or thereabouts. It will not only deliver us the sight of our first real mountain top win but also indicate those with the legs for the tough stuff – regardless of winning the stage.
Alto Cumbres Verdes is steep, but short, and preceded by a long stretch of easy rolling terrain which fails to sap the legs; meaning a bout of explosive attacking and counter-attacking should be guaranteed in the final moments of stage 6. With a maximum ramp of 12.78% over its 4km or so length, the climb will appeal to those blessed with the skywards acceleration which makes such a task look flat on TV. Climber-Puncheur crossover riders such as Daniel Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez will surely see the day as a golden opportunity to, not only take a win, but also secure some bonus seconds on GC.
Another man who displayed interest in such matters the previous day was Team Sky’s Christopher Froome, unexpectedly sprinting for a couple of bonus seconds at the intermediate sprint. He clearly understands that every second on offer is worth fighting for and with time incentives rewarding the top 3 at each stage, Froome may consider challenging for the win. Despite Froome being one of the most impressive climbers in the world currently, the finale does not really suit his high tempo approach to sustained climbing. Though he has displayed his ‘spiked efforts’ on numerous occasions in the high mountains, there does not appear to be enough ascending before the finale to really favour Froome in such a scenario. He certainly has won similar finishes which entail short, sharp bursts of acceleration over small distances, but not usually when preceded by such little climbing. The same can probably be said of Nairo Quintana when it comes to identifying his preferred terrain; while Alberto Contador would appear to be riding himself into form at this Vuelta after his injury, so will be expected to become prolific later on in the race.
Alejandro Valverde is another interesting possibility, a man who seems to have been duped into co-leadership of a team with Nairo Quintana and who could steal some bonus seconds from the Colombian under the guise of a stage win. He is along the line of the afore mentioned cross-breed of Puncheur and Climber which seems best suited to the finale of the day up Alto Cumbres Verdes.
Orica-GreenEDGE may be resigned to losing the leader’s jersey today, but it does not mean they shall not bother to make their presence felt with either Esteban Chavez or Adam Yates. The former is rumoured to be targeting GC and is sitting pretty in 6th at the moment; while Adam Yates has nothing to lose by attacking here in the name of a Grand Tour stage win. The young Brit has shown an aptitude for such terrain during the season at Tour of Turkey, Tour of California and Critérium du Dauphiné – he has to be factored into the day’s outcome when looking at the climb and final KM.
With the terrain not appearing to be testing enough throughout the day for the pure climbers, it looks like the win will end up in the hands of a classics styled rider who can finish explosively over short, steep climbs. When searching for comparable conclusions in the race calendar, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne begin to suggest the sort of riders which may contest the win. Though the day does appear to be tailored made for Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha, it also looks very Dan Martin friendly too with its steep finish of 4km up to the line. The Irishman got the better of Rodriguez in a similar situation at 2013’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège and must still be swearing over his defeat to Michael Matthews a few days ago. His form is clear, even sprinting with the fast men at times, which must be a result of targeting the Vuelta seriously after a disastrous Giro. Not only motivated by his defeat to Matthews, Martin could also do with making some time back on GC by winning here today. Alejandro Valverde might have a similar intention and also beat Martin into second place at this year’s Flèche Wallonne over the Mur de Huy, so could fancy a repeat. Adam Yates is the real dark horse of the day, finding himself free to attack late on due to little threat upon the general classification and looking sharp after San Sebastian. The GC riders of Froome, Quintana, Uran, Contador etc are expected to be part of the finale’s select group, but with little hope of opening up large time gaps to their rivals, it seems less likely that any of them will really dig deep for the win – focusing more on finishing together without losing time. Such a scenario would play into the hands of the fast finishing Martin, who should be able to get the edge on his rivals judging by his displays thus far.
1st Martin 2nd Yates 3rd Rodriguez