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After the early break was caught less than 500m from the finish, Cimolai launched a powerful sprint to win stage 6 of the Volta a Catalunya after a thrilling finale, holding off Arndt and van der Sande; Quintana retained the lead

Photo: Sirotti

DAVIDE CIMOLAI

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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NIKIAS ARNDT

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TOSH VAN DER SANDE

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UAE TEAM EMIRATES

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VOLTA A CATALUNYA

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26.03.2016 @ 17:55 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Davide Cimolai made up for what has been a disappointing start to the year for Lampre-Merida by claiming the team’s first WorldTour win in a dramatic finale of stage 6 at the Volta a Catalunya. After the early break was caught with less than 500m to go, he launched a powerful sprint on the uphill finishing straight and easily held off Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) and Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) to take his first win of the year. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) retained the lead on the eve of the final stage.

 

The 2016 season has been a frustrating one for Lampre-Merida. The Italian team has had lots of near-misses with a strong Diego Ulissi but apart from that, they haven’t been much in the spotlight.

 

This week’s Volta a Catalunya has reflected their poor fortune as they haven’t had much success in the Spanish race. They lost team captain Louis Meintjes in a crash and sprinter Davide Cimolai hasn’t had much success in the sprints.

 

However, they haven’t lost faith in their fast finisher and with top sprinters Nacer Bouhanni and Ben Swift out of the race, they believed in their chances in today’s relatively flat penultimate stage. When 11 strong riders escapes, they did the majority of the chase work right from the start and the end Cimolai paid them back by taking an impressive sprint win after a nail-biting finale.

 

Lampre-Merida, IAM, Lotto Soudal and FDJ had been chasing hard to bring the break back and things seemed to be under control with 25km to when the gap had been reduced to just 1.30. At this point, Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data), Rudy Molard (Cofidis), Petr Vakoč (Team Quick Step), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) were the survivors in the break and after a bit of attacking, they were again working well together.

 

Suddenly, the early workers had now all blown up and with 22km to go, it was only Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) setting the pace. When he swung off, Trek came to the fore with Julien Bernard but the chase was losing power at a point when they had reduced the gap to 1 minute.

 

Pantano took another turn and got some help from Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) and riders from Lampre-Merida and FDJ before Tinkoff made a move. Matteo Tosatto moved to the front with Alberto Contador on his wheel, trying to split things in the crosswinds. However, it had no effect and they quickly stopped their action, having brought the gap down to 33 seconds with 18km to go.

 

Bernard took a final turn but when he swung off, the chase effort died. Movistar hit the front with Marc Soler and Imanol Erviti but it was all about keeping Quintana safe. That allowed the escapees to add another four seconds to their advantage with 15km to go.

 

Meyer tried to attack and the pace was too much for Chaves and Hardy who both fell back to the peloton. Vakoc also gave it a go but failed to get clear.

 

Lampre-Merida moved to the front with Matteo Bono and Matej Mohoric and FDJ also came to the fore with two riders with 12km to go. However, the gap had still gone out to 49 seconds with 10km to go where Minnaard became the next rider to get distanced.

 

With Chaves no longer in the break, Amets Txurruka (Orica-GreenEDGE) lent a hand to the chase. Katusha put Pavel Kochetkov on the front but Lampre-Merida had again disappeared, meaning that it was three teams working hard to bring the break back.

 

With 8km to go, the gap was still 45 seconds but as FDJ took a huge turn, the gap was down to 10 seconds with 6km to go. Here Vakoc put in a huge surge on a climb and as Ten Dam and Domont fell off the pace, they increased their advantage.

 

Kevin Reza (FDJ), Bono and IAM did the pace-setting until Giant-Alpecin hit the front with four riders with 3km to go. That made a difference and the break was nearly caught with 2km to go.

 

Tinkoff made a brief acceleration to keep Contador safe but it was Lotto who hit the front at the flamme rouge. Up front, it was Meyer digging deep and when he realized that it was all but over, he launched an attack.

 

Vakoc led the chase but hadn’t realized that he had the entire peloton in tow. That put Cimolai in the perfect position to strike as he was the first rider behind the four escapees. When Meyer was caught, he opened a powerful sprint on the rising finishing straight and no one was even close to him as he rolled across the line, easily keeping Nikias Arndt and Tosh van der Sande at bay.

 

Nairo Quintana finished safely in the peloton and so retained his 7-second advantage over Contador with just one stage to go. However, Daniel Martin moved closer to the podium by picking up three bonus seconds in an intermediate sprint and he is now just one second behind Richie Porte (BMC)

 

Quintana faces a difficult final day in the saddle as the riders will end the race with the usual intense stage in Barcelona on the final day. After an opening part with a category 2 and a category 3 climb, the riders will do 8 laps of the well-known 6.5km circuit that includes the Montjuic climb just 4km from the downhill run to the finish and which has often been the scene of the final attacks from the GC contenders.

 

The easiest stage

After yesterday’s lumpy stage, the terrain was flatter in stage 6 which brought the riders over 197.2km from Sant Joan Despi to Vilanova i La Geltru. After an early category 3 climb, the riders tackled a category 2 climb at the midpoint but the final 60km were mainly descending and led to a flat finish.

 

The riders were greeted by bright sunshine as they gathered for the start on the Mediterranean coast but five riders were not present. Alberto Losada (Katusha), Ben Swift (Sky) who are both ill, Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff), Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge) and Martin Elmiger (IAM) all decided to stay at the hotel and it was only 162 riders who embarked on the 2.5km neutral zone.

 

Bonus seconds for Martin

The penultimate stage has been won by a break and it was expected that there would be lots of attacks. With an intermediate sprint after just 10km of racing, Tinkoff and Etixx-Quick Step tried to keep things together which they did successfully as Daniel Martin won the sprint ahead of Philippe Gilbert (BMC) who was trying to protect Richie Porte’s third place, and Romain Bardet ( ag2r). Thus Martin is now only one second from the podium in the overall standings.

 

Eight riders attacked immediately after the sprint, and they remained in front for a few kilometers but were back at the bottom of the first climb. Here five riders attacked and after another two had joined the move, it was a seven-rider group that was established. Carlos Verona, Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge), Mikaël Cherel, Hubert Dupont (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Antonio Molina (Caja Rural) reached the top with a small advantage edge and it was Cataldo who won the KOM sprint ahead of Verona.

 

The break is formed

The break only had a gap of 15 seconds after 26km of racing and it developed into a fierce battle where the gap was stable for a few kilometers. Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha) managed to bridge across to the front group despite the fierce chase. Five kilometers later it had gone out to 25 seconds and now Huub Duijn (Roompot) and Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida) tried bridge the gap. They were joined by Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and suddenly seven riders gathered in the chase behind the leaders. They made the junction after 37km of racing where the gap had again dropped to 15 seconds. However, the group was too big, and since the cooperation was destroyed, it was all back together at the 41km mark.

 

The riders covered 44km during the first hour and the attacks still continued. After a small group briefly had looked promising, the peloton split slightly up under the hard pressure. It was at this point that the foundation for the break was laid when Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis) attacked after 55km of racing, and they quickly got a gap of 20 seconds to the first peloton while another bunch was a further 30 seconds adrift. Despite the hard pace, Petr Vakoč (Team Quick Step), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge), Laurens Ten Dam (Giant-Alpecin), Ryder Hesjedal (Trek-Segafredo), Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) Alex Howes (Cannondale) and Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) to managed to join the leaders, and after 57km of racing, the first peloton decided finally take it easy.

 

Two riders bridge across

Romain Hardy (Cofidis) and Axel Domont (Ag2r) refused to give up so while the two pelotons again merged, they took up the chase. After 64km they were 20 seconds behind the leaders while the peloton had already lost 3 minutes, and they managed to make the junction three kilometers later. Here the peloton was already 4.50.

 

The gap went out to 5.30 after 70km of racing before Lampre-Merida started to chase. Giant-Alpecin and IAM soon gave them a hand, but they made little inroads as the gap was still 5.15 after 84km of racing. Meanwhile, Pawel Cieslik (Verva) became the first rider to leave the race.

 

Lampre-Merida and IAM start to chase

Despite the fact that Swift was out of the race, Sky briefly started to chase with 107km to the go just when Lindeman won the second intermediate race. Here there was a minor crash involving the young climbers Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Laurens De Plus (Etixx-QuickStep).

 

As they passed through the feed zone, the gap was still 4.50 and it even went out to 5 minutes with 90km to go. That’s when Lampre-Merida and IAM upped the pace significantly, with Stef Clement (IAM), Ilya Koshevoy and Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida) started to trade pulls.

 

More teams come to the fore

The work paid off and the gap was down to just 3.56 two km from the top of the main climb of the day. It had dropped to 3.40 when Chaves led Minnaard and Vakoc over the top.

 

With 74km to go, Oliver Zaugg also started to chase for IAM and there was more firepower when Dander Armee (Lotto Soudal) and an FDJ rider also came to the fore. However, the gap had stabilized around 3.20 as they entered the final 70km.

 

The gap comes down

With four teams now working hard, the balance started to tip again and with 60km to go, the gap had dropped to just 2 minutes and this prompted Zaugg to stop his work. Hence, it was Durasek, Koshevoy, Armee, Clement and an FDJ rider setting the pace.

 

The gap dropped to 1.45 and it seemed that everything was under control with 50km to go. Here the riders approached a change in direction and so all the major teams started to gather their troops near the front. Meanwhile, Lampre-Merida added more firepower to the chase as Tsgabu Grmay and Jan Polanc also started to work hard.

 

Hesjedal and Howes are dropped

The escapees reacted to the faster pace and had pushed the gap out to 2.15 with 45km to go. However, the cooperation was not great and this prompted the first attacks. Domont, Lindeman and Meyer made the first move but the group came back together, with only Hesjedal and Howes getting distanced.

 

Some of the early workers were starting to blow up and with 40km to go, it was only Zaugg, Armee, Grmay, and an FDJ rider riding on the front. The gap was not coming down and it was still 2.12 at this point.

 

The peloton suddenly got the upper hand and reduced the gap to 1.45 but the escapees were now cooperating greatly. They managed to stabilize the situation for a while until they entered the final 30km when the balance again tipped in favour of the peloton. In the end, it became a nail-biting finale that saw Cimolai come out on top.

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