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With an attack on the final small climb, Yates rode away from a reduced peloton and soloed to victory on the hilly stage 6 of the Vuelta a Espana; Sanchez beat Felline in the sprint for second and Atapuma retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti

DARWIN ATAPUMA

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FABIO FELLINE

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LUIS LEÓN SÁNCHEZ

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MITCHELTON-SCOTT

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SIMON YATES

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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25.08.2016 @ 18:17 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) continued his excellent comeback following his short doping suspension when he soloed to his first grand tour stage win on the sixth day of the Vuelta a Espana. After his team had taken the initiative on the first climb, the Brit made a strong attack on the final small climb and then dropped Daniel Moreno (Movistar) to take the win and move into top 10 overall. Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) beat Fabio Felline (Trek) in the sprint from a six-rider chase group while Darwin Atapuma (BMC) retained the lead.

 

In April, Simon Yates’ promising career seemed to be under threat when an administrative error from his team left him with a short doping suspension. Orica-BikeExchange had failed to apply for a therapeutic use exemption for his asthma medication and when he returned a positive test at Paris-Nice, he was banned from racing.

 

A frustrated Yates missed the Tour de France and had to watch from the sidelines while his brother Adam grew to fame with a fourth place and a victory in the youth classification. However, he was determined to prove that he is just as talented and he kept training in the mountains during the summer to make sure that he hit the ground running.

 

That’s what he did as he finished in the top 10 at the Clasica San Sebastian and took his first pro win at Klasika Ordizia just a few weeks after his comeback. Top four results in the Vuelta a Burgos and Circuito de Getxo proved that he was on form for the Vuelta a Espana where he was going to be the back-up plan for Esteban Chaves and today he showed that he is ready to emulate Adam by claiming an impressive solo win on stage 6.

 

Yates made his move on a short, steep climb with 5km to go where a hard day had significantly reduced the size of the peloton. He joined Daniel Moreno in a move, dropped the Spaniard and then passed a fading Mathias Frank (IAM) before soloing across the line with plenty of time to celebrate his win.

 

It was Yates’ Orica-BikeExchange that had taken the initiative on a descent that led to the bottom of the only categorized climb with around 65km to go. At that point, Andrey Zeits (Astana), Kevin Reza (FDJ), Jan Bakelants (AG2R - La Mondiale), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Gert Dockx (Lotto Soudal), Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Mathias Frank ( IAM Cycling), Laurent Didier (Trek) Valerio Conti (Lampre - Merida), José Mendes and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Argon18) had an advantage of 2.00 but the Australians suddenly hit the front with their entire team and it was Simon Gerrans who upped the pace significantly. Svein Tuft also contributed to the pace-setting on the tricky descent and splits started to appear at the rear end of the group.

 

Gerrans led the peloton onto the only categorized climb 1.25 behind the leaders and this orced the escapees to react. Fraile attacked right from the bottom and it was Bakelants, Frank and Didier who gave chase. Losada and Dockx joined the trio and Zeits also made it back to make is a sextet.

 

Gerrans made the peloton explode and then his teammate Magnus Cort took over. Great climbers like Pierre Rolland dropped but nonetheless Fraile managed to increase his advantage to 1.40.

 

Conti and Reza the first riders to be brought back and while Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) was one of the many riders to get dropped, Cort maintained his pace. Jens Keukekeire was the next rider to up the pace for Orica-BikeExchange but he could match Fraile who led his chasers by a minute and the peloton by 2.30 when he won the intermediate sprint one kilometre from the top of the climb ahead of Zeits and Bakelants.

 

Keukeleire brought Dockx back while Philippe Gilbert (BMC) had to dig deep to hang onto the peloton. Jack Haig then took over for Orica before Fraile crested the summit with an advantage of 3 minutes over the peloton and 1.20 over Frank, Losada, Bakelants, Didier and Zeits, with Zeits and Bakelants picking up the remaining points. Mendes and Mühlberger were a little further back.

 

As they approached the top, Gerrans again hit the front in the peloton but it was now a big fight for position. Tinkoff and Orica-BikeExchange battled hard and it was the Russian team that came out on top. Daniele Bennati went full gas on the descent and that made it difficult for Gilbert who suffered a very untimely puncture.

 

Bennati brought Mendes and Mühlberger back but then Tinkoff stopped their attack. However, the pace barely dropped as Movistar went straight to the front with Jose Joaquin Rojas.

 

Losada missed a turn on the descent and so lost contact with the chase group which was 1.20 behind Fraile with 35km to go. At this point, the peloton had reduced the gap to just 2 minutes.

 

Rojas set a fast pace on a small climb close to the bottom of the descent and this put Sky domestiques Salvatore Puccio and Ian Boswell into difficulty. Jonathan Castroviejo then took over as they hit the long climb in the finale and this put Sky into more difficulties as David Lopez fell off the pace.

 

Imanol Erviti was almost dropped but managed to return to the front to share the work with Castroviejo. When he swung off, Jose Herrada came to the fore and together with Castroviejo and Rojas, he gradually reduced the gap.

 

Fraile was starting to show signs of fatigue and even though, Didier was left behind, the chasers were getting closer. With 22km to go, Bakelants, Zeits and Frank were just 40 seconds behind while the peloton was at 1.35.

 

Herrada swung off and left it to Rojas and Castroviejo to continue the pace-setting as they approached the top. Meanwhile, Fraile started to tire and suddenly his gap melted away. With 19km to go, he was caught by the three chasers.

 

The fatigue was setting in and as there was no cooperation, Frank made a solo move. Bakelants tried to join him but he had to join forces with Zeits in an attempt to get back while Fraile sat up and was brought back by the peloton.

 

Frank reached the top of the climb with advantages of 25 and 55 seconds respectively. The Swiss did a great job on the descent and when he hit the final 10km, he had increased it to 35 seconds and 1.05.

 

While Frank started to lose ground, a crash in the peloton brought down Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) and Bart De Clercq and while the former quickly got back on his bike, the latter was in a lot of pain.

 

Frank hit the final climb with 5.5km to go with advantage of 20 and 40 seconds respectively. In the peloton, Rojas took one final turn and then Ruben Fernandez took over. He brought the two attackers back as they passed the 5km to go banner.

 

When Fernandez swung off, Movistar changed tactic as Daniel Moreno attacked and he was joined by Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange). Ben Hermans (BMC) gave chase while the peloton slowed down.

 

Yates refused to cooperate but when Moreno slowed down, the Brit attacked again. He immediately closed the gap to Frank and with a swift acceleration, he left the Swiss behind.

 

Yates reached the top of the climb with 3km to go 20 seconds ahead of Hermans, Moreno and Frank who had joined forces. In the peloton, there were numerous attacks and it was Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Fabio Felline (Trek) and Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) who got clear.

 

There was no organization in the peloton which was out of the battle for the stage win and as Yates passed the flamme rouge with a 20-second advantage, it was evident that the Brit was going to win. He sprinted all the way to the line and then sat up to celebrate his second professional win.

 

Sanchez, Elissonde and Felline caught the three chasers in the final kilometre and it was Sanchez who sprinted up the finishing straight to take second 20 seconds behind the winner. Felline led the rest of the group across the line 2 seconds later before Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) beat Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Simon Clarke (Cannondale) in the peloton’s sprint, 29 seconds too late.

 

Darwin Atapuma finished safely in the bunch and so retained his 28-second advantage over Valverde. He faces a very similar stage tomorrow when the peloton will tackle another very hilly stage without any flat roads. There are a total of three category 3 climbs and several uncategorized ascents before the riders to get to the final 18.5km which are descending and flat.

 

A hilly stage

After yesterday’s dramatic sprint stage, the riders faced one of the most unpredictable stages of the entire race on day 6 where they tackled 163.2km from Monforte de Lemos to Luintra. After a flat first half, the riders hit a long category 3 climb whose top came with 47.3km to go. From there a long descent led to a 10km uncategorized ascent before a downhill run to the finishing city was followed by a short 2km climb. The top came with 3km to go and then another descent led to the 300m uphill finishing straight.

 

The stage started with a minute's silence in memory of the victims of the earthquake in Italy before the riders set out on their journey through the hilly northwestern Spain. Unfortunately, Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff) and Sebastien Minard (Ag2r) who both crashed yesterday were absent as the field rolled through the neutral zone in excellent sunny weather.

 

Lots of attacks

Immediately from the start, Simon Pellaud (IAM), Loic Chetout (Cofidis) and Christoph Pfingsten (Bora-Argon 18) attacked but they were already back in the fold after 2km of racing. As expected, that set the scene for a blistering start with many attempts. The next to get a bigger advantage were Dries Devenyns (IAM) and Chetout after 9 km, and they were joined by Davide Villella (Cannondale). Two kilometers later it was back together.

 

At the 16km mark, Gatis Smukulis (Astana) attacked, and five kilometers later a strong 17-rider group had formed around the Latvian champion. It did not last long though, and after 23 km of racing, no one had gone clear.

 

11 riders get clear

After 25km, 12 riders formed a promising move but this time Cannondale had missed the break. Therefore they chased the hard, and when they were joined by Movistar and Orica-Bike Exchange, the attack was neutralized. At the same time, the temperature reached 33 degrees. After 40km of racing, no one had escaped but the hard pace was too much for Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) who unfortunately had to give up after his crash on the third stage

 

After 45km of racing, Andrey Zeits (Astana), Kevin Reza (FDJ), Jan Bakelants (AG2R - La Mondiale), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Gert Dockx (Lotto Soudal), Omar Fraile (Dimension Data), Mathias Frank ( IAM Cycling), Valerio Conti (Lampre - Merida), José Mendes and Gregor Mühlberger (Bora-Argon18) managed to get a gap of 18 seconds. Laurent Didier (Trek) joined them and finally the peloton slowed down. Therefore, the gap had increased to 1.47 after an hour with at an average speed of of no less than 48.6 km/h.

 

BMC take control

While Igor Anton (Dimension Data) visited the medical car, the advantage went out to 2.20 at the 55km mark, and as Mendes was only 2.51 behind on GC, BMC immediately started to chase.

 

Silvan Dillier (BMC) was the only rider working on the front but he did an excellent job to single-handledly keep the gap around 2.20 for several kilometres. The strong break forced the peloton to ride very fast and was riding single-file for most of the time.

 

Puncture for Mendes

Dillier finally got some help from teammate Jempy Drucker when BMC gathered their entire troops on the front. Meanwhile, Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) had to spend precious energy to rejoin the peloton after a puncture.

 

As the terrain got hillier, BMC increased the pace and they had brought the gap down to 2 minutes as they hit the final 65km. At the same time, Mendes had bad luck as he suffered a puncture and so had to chase hard to rejoin the peloton. Moments later, Orica-BikeExchange upped the pace and this is where the exciting finale started.

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