Bahrain Victorious strike back after loss of Landa
Their leader Mikel Landa had just crashed hard in the closing kilometres and was unable to carry on, forcing him to abandon the race when he had looked so strong.
It’s impossible for us to know exactly what it feels like when your sole general classification leader crashes out in the first week, but I imagine starting a 160km mountain stage the next morning is not a welcome prospect.
Through all the disappointment, Bahrain Victorious emerged defiant on stage six, putting their young rider Gino Mäder and habitual attacker Matej Mohorič in the breakaway in the hopes of a consolation stage victory.
The 24-year-old Swiss pro Mäder, who shone in the U23 category before joining the WorldTour with Dimension Data in 2019, faced stiff competition in the break including from Tour de France stage winner Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), but he wouldn’t be intimidated.
Mäder held his own in the breakaway group on the first real mountain stage of the race and kept himself at the front until 3km from the summit of the final climb, attacking Mollema and Dario Cataldo (Movistar) to secure his second pro win, and by far the biggest of his career.
A promising rider since joining the WorldTour, with multiple podium finishes to his name, Mäder couldn’t have announced himself in a bigger way.
Alessandro De Marchi drops out of the lead, as Attila Valter makes history
It was always going to be a tough ask for Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) to defend his race lead on stage six.
The Italian breakaway specialist is a formidable climber when out in a leading group, but defending a leader’s jersey was not a familiar feeling, to him or to his team.
But De Marchi may be regretting the way in which he let the the jersey go, as he lost contact with the group of favourites on the penultimate climb before the pace was really on, as Filippo Ganna (not a climber) was setting the pace at the head of the group for Ineos Grenadiers.
De Marchi may not have had a realistic chance at defending the pink jersey on the final climb, but he may have wanted to try for just a few more kilometres, rather than losing touch due to poor positioning as the winds buffeted the main group.
While Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) seemed poised to move into the race lead after stage six, instead it was another wildcard rider who will take over the maglia rosa from De Marchi.
Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) jumped up from fourth place on GC into first at the summit of the day’s final climb, becoming the first Hungarian to ever lead a Grand Tour.
The 22-year-old has been highly coveted since his stellar 2019 season, winning a stage of under-23 race the Tour de l’Avenir and his national time trial championships, before switching to CCC Team for 2020.
Last year Valter won his home race, the Tour de Hongrie, and was coveted by Groupama-FDJ who signed him as CCC folded at the end of the year.
Despite his career being just a few seasons old, Valter adds the race lead in a Grand Tour to his list of achievements, and with a strong climbing ability he may hold on for at least a few more stages.
Evenepoel and Bernal still the strongest of the favourites
Stage six was only the second opportunity we’ve had to see the form of the GC favourites, but this time we really saw who is up to the task.
After the hills of stage four, where Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) was able to attack and steal a few seconds, it was the Colombian star who lit up the race once again on stage six.
Ineos set a characteristically devastating pace on the penultimate climb, with Fillippo Ganna the clear ‘rider of the day’, and Dani Martínez launching an attack on the final climb to set up the inevitable move from Bernal.
It wasn’t until the final kilometre that Bernal finally showed his hand, attacking the diminishing group of favourites, with Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) the strongest of his rivals, while Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation) also demonstrated his form by following the two favourites.
While Bernal has been struggling with back problems for the last two seasons, and Evenepoel hasn’t raced for nine months, these are now the two clear favourites in the GC race, both looking untouchable as they arrived at Ascoli Piceno.
In the GC table, Evenepoel is now the best-placed over the overall contenders in second place, just 11 seconds behind Valter.
Bernal now sits third with just a five-second deficit to Evenepoel.
Yates and Carthy slip back
Defending against the pace of Ineos was no easy task for the rest of the GC favourites, and it was Brits Simon Yates and Hugh Carthy who were caught out as Bernal and Evenepoel rode away.
Yates (Team BikeExchange), arguably the main pre-race favourite after his victory in the Tour of the Alps, and Carthy (EF Education Nippo) finished the day 17 seconds behind Bernal, but they weren’t the only contenders to slip back on an attritional day of racing.
Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) finished alongside Carthy and Yates to lose a chunk of time, while Romain Bardet (Team DSM), who looked outstanding earlier in the day, lost 28 seconds to the frontrunners by the summit.
Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) also showed that his broken wrist just weeks before the Giro has indeed impacted his preparation, as he finished 45 seconds behind Bernal, knocking him down to 17th place overall, 1-43 off the race lead.
Vlasov now sits fourth overall at 24 seconds, Carthy in sixth at 38 seconds, while Yates is now 10th at 49 seconds.
The first mountain finish of the Giro delivers the excitement
The opening week of the Giro had not been the most inspiring start to a Grand Tour.
After the opening time trial set the scene, we’ve sat through some uneventful (aside from unwelcome crashes) sprint stages, and two breakaway wins with very little GC action.
But true to tradition, the Giro delivered the excitement in its first mountain finish of the race, as the peloton took on a trio of categorised climbs, finishing with the 15.5km, six per cent average gradient Ascoli Piceno ascent.
While not the toughest climbs of this year’s Giro, the gradients, the weather, and the exposed nature of the mountains resulted in an absolute treat for cycling fans.
The action exploded onto our screens as Ineos tore the peloton to pieces on the penultimate climb, with side winds causing splits in the bunch near the summit, as the rain continued to pour down. The only disappointment on stage six was the lack of consistent live pictures, as the weather made broadcasting near impossible.
But luckily the racing hadn't slowed once images were restored, with attacks on the descent and a fascinating battle for the stage and for the GC on the final climb.
The stage served as another brilliant reminder of what’s so enticing about Grand Tours - the gradual building of tension over the less exciting stages, followed by the explosion of thrills on those few pivotal stages.
Let’s hope for more of this over the coming weeks.
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