Alejandro Valverde denied Tao Geoghegan Hart at the line to win stage six of the Critérium du Dauphiné 2021.
The stage came down to a sprint between a reduced group of climbers, with Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) attacking 200 metres from the line on the tough uphill finish.
But Valverde (Movistar) waited until the final moment to bridge across to Geoghegan Hart and sprint past the Brit to win the day.
Lukas Pöstlberger was forced to hand over his race lead after he was dropped on the Col de Porte, with Astana-Premier Tech rider Alexey Lustenko now wearing the yellow jersey into stage seven.
How it happened
Stage six of the 2021 Critérium du Dauphiné was the first opportunity on the road for the general classification contenders, with four tough climbs to deal with in the final.
The 167km stage ran from Loriol-sur-Drome to Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse near Grenoble, as the race turns towards the Alpes.
After a mostly flat opening 100km, the serious climbing began in the final 50km, starting with the Col de la Placette (5.1km at 6.4 per cent gradient).
Then came the biggest climb of the day, the Col de Porte (7.7km at 6.5 percent), which was expected to split up the race 20km from the finish before the double-header uphill to the line.
The last two climbs of the day, the Cote de la Frette and Montée du Sappy-en-Chartreuse, were stacked on top of each other, 3.7km and 3km long, at 5.2 per cent and 6.1 per cent gradient respectively.
After a rapid start to the stage, it was a tough battle for a breakaway to escape the peloton on the flat roads, and it wasn’t until almost 40km into the day that a group finally got established out front.
That 14-rider group included some major talents, but it would be a tough ask for the break to make it to the line, with the bunch motivated behind.
The break featured a number of potential contenders to win the day however, including Matthew Holmes (Lotto-Soudal), Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r-Citroën), and Lawson Craddock (EF Education-Nippo).
As the race hit the first climb of the day, the gap between the peloton and the break was up to almost three minutes, with Jumbo-Visma and Bora-Hansgrohe setting the pace for the chasing bunch.
On the Col de Porte, the break began to fall apart before Craddock launched a solo attack near the summit to drop the rest of the escapees with around 20km to the line.
Meanwhile race leader Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) lost contact with the main group, as his hopes of leading for another day fell away.
Craddock crested the Porte alone with Holmes chasing hard behind, but the peloton were quickly gaining on the solo leader, as Holmes was swept up by the bunch on the descent.
With 10km left to the line, Craddock had just 14 seconds over the peloton, as it looked inevitable he would be caught on the two final climbs.
Onto the final uphill ramps and Craddock was finally caught 3km from the summit, as Ineos set the pace for the group of favourites, before the attacks started to fly from the climbers. Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) both tried but into the final kilometre the favourites were still all in with a chance at the stage.
At 200m Geoghegan Hart then launched another big attack, getting the gap on the peloton, with Valverde also firing out of the leading group in pursuit.
While Geoghegan Hart’s attack looked like it could be destined for victory, Valverde quickly bridged across to sprint past and finish ahead, taking the win.
Lustenko finished in the front group and now moves into the race lead, eight seconds ahead of his team-mate Ion Izagirre.
Geraint Thomas now sits fourth overall, 13 seconds off the the race lead.
The Dauphiné continues with another tough mountain stage, which finishes at the summit of La Plagne.
Critérium du Dauphiné 2021, stage six: Loriol-sur-Drome to Le Sappey-en-Chartreuse (167.2km)
1. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar), in 5-52-53
2. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr)
3. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
4. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe
5. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar
6. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma
7. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech
8. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious
9. Ben Hermans (Bel) Israel Start-Up Nation
10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, all at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech, in 20-52-16
2. Ion Izagirre (Esp) Astana-Premier Tech, at 8s
3. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 12s
4. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 13s
5. Ilan Van Wilder (Bel) Team DSM, at same time
6. Richie Porte (Aus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 15s
7. Patrick Konrad (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 27s
8. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious, at 34s
9. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 39s
10. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar, at 42s
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