Life has been hard at this year’s Volta a Catalunya for any sprinters in attendance, their opportunities already thin on the ground, have been scuppered twice by the exploits of Alejandro Valverde. On stage 6 interference from the general classification riders should be put on hold, meaning that as long as any breakaway is kept under control, the sprinters still present should finally have a shot at glory.
Stage 6 is a 194.1km trip from Cervera to PortAventura along rolling roads for the most part, with the inclusion of the category 1 Alt de Prades; topping out 106.3km from the finish. This 11km climb has an average gradient of 4% and only hits a maximum of 6%, meaning this should not feel too arduous to conquer. A long descent follows, eventually levelling out once again before the peloton then ascend the category 3 Alt del Coli Roig at 3.7km long (avg 5% max 6%.) A little over 40km will remain by the time the peloton reach the summit, after which they will then descend for a short period, before finding themselves on level terrain which will lead them into the finish.
The finish itself is relatively simple, but does include a selection of roundabouts to navigate for the second day in a row. A finishing straight of 600m will ensure a drag race for the sprinters to duke it out upon, made likely to be an even faster affair by a decline of 2% towards the line.
As mentioned throughout Spokenforks’ coverage of the Volta a Catalunya, the race is notoriously hard to predict from one day to the next, but day six should be gifted to the sprinters. That is not to say it will be easy to control, assuming that the overall contenders decide to keep their powder dry before the final day, breakaway hopefuls will sense a chance to snatch a win from a peloton light on teams interested in chasing them.
Giant-Alpecin will head any such chase in the name of their sprinter Luka Mezgec, guaranteed to be one of the fastest men present in the possible bunch kick. He has not impressed much so far, taking his highest placing of 30th on stage 2’s ride into Olot – won by Valverde. His team will do a solid job of keeping him into contention throughout the day and should be confident of a podium placing in PortAventura.
Another team who will not be a surprise to see at the front of the peloton will be Europcar, working hard for sprinter Bryan Coquard. The Frenchman is probably the fastest man in such a finish and will benefit from the lack of leadout trains which usually smother his chances of a win. He has a habit of accelerating late in the sprint, often unsuccessfully, but will hope the accumulative fatigue of the previous day’s shall have blunted his opponents’ top speed.
The sprinter who has been climbing best up to this point and finishing most consistently in the absence of bunch sprints is José Joaquín Rojas. His team leader Valverde has snuffed his chances’ so far in this race and could certainly do the same once again, but it seems more viable that Alejandro will save his efforts for the final day where he could overturn the deficit. In this scenario, Rojas is worth watching on the back of his performances so far this week and should have hopes of charting high here.
As mentioned, it would be reckless to totally exclude Alejandro Valverde from contention on stage 6; having showed such desire to win the race overall this week. His speed is well documented and can certainly compete with some of the fastest in this race in a ‘man v man’ sprint finish. If he times such a move well enough, Valverde has a chance of winning the stage by a big enough margin (with the time bonus) to head into the final day as race leader.
Etixx-Quick Step might have faith in Julian Alaphilippe to rediscover the form he had at this race last year when battling Mezgec for several stage wins. He clearly has the capability to feature in the finish of such a stage, but will hope that the majority who are faster than him suffer more in order to level the playing field in his favour somewhat.
Beyond this the likes of Jonathan Hivert and Roberto Ferrari could both be present at the finish behind the quicker men. Ultimately, the day fails to favour any obvious type of rider and will perhaps be rich pickings for the breakaway at the end of the day.
1st José Joaquín Rojas 2nd Bryan Coquard 3rd Luka Mezgec