Yesterday proved to be a much tougher conclusion to Stage 6 than expected, after only 2km of the final climb we saw an extremely select group of riders begin to emerge. The GC contenders were at the front of this as expected, but the surprise came when seeing most of the expected explosive finishers being tailed off by Alejandro Valverde’s intense pace. Today’s trip from Alhendin to Alcaudete (169km) further in inland will be seen as a breather for those involved in yesterday’s conclusion, but concentration will still be required as this is no simple transition stage between mountains.
Two categorised climbs are on the cards today, including the 12.1km approach to Alto Ahillo’s summit after 121km have been completed. This leave almost 50km to try and bring the peloton back together before the uphill finish, as it is expected that a breakaway will see today as a fantastic chance as many teams worked hard yesterday for their GC riders. It is this factor which shall affect who shares the workload at the front of the peltoton once a break is established, as it is hard to see who will chase if Orica-GreenEDGE and BMC both have riders up the road. Should it remain together in the closing kilometres, the riders face a increasingly familiar uphill finish at this year’s Vuelta as they are required to climb the gradual 5km up to Alcaudete. Hovering around 4% for the majority will keep things even before the closing 1500m tilt up to 5%, then settling down once more for the sprint at 500m to go.
Everyone will be looking at Philipe Gilbert today, the finishing terrain seems perfect for the Belgian, but his 2011 form is long gone with little sign of returning. BMC’s hope of a general classification are certainly diminishing with Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez beginning to flag yesterday at the first true test, for those with overall ambitions. With stage wins now a more likely goal, the BMC pair are likely to target 2 or 3 remaining days to try and make their presence here worthwhile. If it had not been for Sanchez struggling the previous day, he may even have been seen as a contender for the win on Stage 7 today. Orica-GreenEDGE are the other major team who will be focused upon the composition of any breakaways and the need to keep them in check before the finish. Michael Matthews is seen as their main hope for today, but he has certainly had to dig deep early in the week and may well have lost the necessary sustained output to win here. The terrain is also not ideal of Matthews, who prefers a shorter hill to act as a launch to the line before sprinting ahead of his tiring counterparts. Because of this, Orica-GreenEDGE might be interested in backing Adam Yates instead, who certainly looked to be going well given his young age and as form on finishes similar to this. Katusha still seem eager to open their account at this year’s Vuelta a España and Alexander Kolobnev would be the ideal candidate for them in the closing stages of today. Beyond his 6th place behind Degenkolb earlier in the tour, Kolobnev has kept his powder dry – possibly targeting today as a real chance for him and the team. Finishing off those we might see if a large group comes to the finish are riders such as Lloyd Mondory who has been riding extremely well so far and Luis Leon Sanchez who is probably the best hope for a home victory today.
There is a reasonable chance that a breakaway could get away and stay clear until Alcaudete, so it is difficult to predict the makeup of those contesting the win exactly. But assuming that a moderately sized group are together at the finish, the outcome is still incredibly open for the first time at the Vuelta thus far. If Orica-GreenEDGE support Adam Yates and ensure he is in a good position in the final 2km, he could be the ideal candidate for the win with no flat sprint to worry about at the end. The man threat will come from Gilbert and Matthews, but the former’s chances are not convincing and the latter does not suit the terrain perfectly. Alexander Kolobnev has a great chance today if he decides to take it and might be relatively unmarked compared to the afore mentioned hopefuls.
1st Kolobnev 2nd Yates 3rd Sanchez/Mondory/Gilbert