De Marchi delivers on early promise
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It’s been clear that he’s been on great form since day one, when he defeated several specialists to finish sixth in the opening time trial, and came close to winning stage five when he lost a three-man sprint at the line.
Today the Italian made sure that he would not have to rely on his somewhat suspect sprinting, first attacking on the final classified climb of the stage, then shedding his one remaining rival, Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha-Alpecin), on the unclassified drag to the finish.
Having secured a contract for the new-look CCC team that will rise out of the ashes of BMC next season, De Marchi seems to be enjoying a new lease of life, and, aged 32, is putting in some of the best rides of his career.
Thibaut Pinot receives little rewards for a big effort
The most intriguing development of the day was Thibaut Pinot’s (Groupama-FDJ) presence in the breakaway, and his quest to move up the overall classification as much as possible.
Despite only being 2-33 down on the GC, and looking in good enough form to challenge for the red jersey (he would already be in the top ten were it not for the 1-44 he lost after being held up by a crash on stage six), Mitchelton-Scott and the other GC teams allowed the Frenchman to get up the road.
The gap was also allowed to grow to the extent that Pinot was the race’s virtual leader by over one minute at certain points. The rest of the break was not especially keen to work with him – prompting him to attack out of it for a short while – but they managed to maintain a lead over the peloton that remained at over two minutes for most of the day.
It was only when EF Education First-Drapac launched a dramatic upping of the pace in the peloton as the finish line approached that things began to swing away from Pinot’s favour. A breathless last-minute chase ensued, with even the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) taking turns at the front of a heavily reduced peloton.
The result was that Pinot only ultimately gained a paltry thirteen seconds on the red jersey, on a day that had initially promised much more.
An exhausting day of fast racing
Any viewers at home tuning in sometime after 4pm expecting to catch the end of the stage were in for a rude surprise, as the riders made it to the finish way before the expected arrival time.
That was mostly due to a breathless opening two hours of the race, during which time the riders averaged an exhausting 48km per hour as the peloton refused to let any break go clear.
Given the nature of the parcours, with its rolling terrain that was far too difficult for sprinters yet not difficult enough for the GC riders to take control, this was always going to be a day for the breakaway, and that was reflected in the almighty tussle to get into the day’s break.
The likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), as well as potentially dangerous names in the GC such as Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) and Laurens De Plus (Quick-Step Floors) all had a go, but ultimately missed the move of nineteen riders that at last went clear successfully with around 100km to go.
The presence of Pinot in the group meant that even then the peloton could not afford to knock off the pace and have a rest, making for what was one of the most draining days of the Vuelta so far.
We can expect them to take it much easier during tomorrow’s mostly flat stage.
Some small time losses
The injection of pace from EF Education First-Drapac in today’s final did manage to catch some riders out, as the peloton splintered into groups. Most notably, Fabio Aru (UAE Emirates) who came home 41 seconds after the red jersey group, meaning he slips from eleventh to thirteenth overall.
There was also some change in the top ten, as Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) falls to sixth having been fourth overnight. The change is not as dramatic as it looks, however, with the German only losing eight seconds to Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
Earlier in the day López was put under pressure when he suffered a mechanical. In normal circumstances this wouldn’t have been a problem, but the pace was so high at the time that the Colombian had to make a sustained effort to catch back up.
Ultimately, Aru was the only real loser on the day, and the GC as a whole remains fascinatingly close going into the weekend’s mountain stages.
Nacer Bouhanni abandons
Victory on stage six ensures that both Nacer Bouhanni’s and Cofidis’ Vuelta has already been a success, but it will still come as a disappointment that the Frenchman has had to abandon the race.
Bouhanni was seen going back to the medical car to seek assistance on a few occasions, and soon it was announced that he was exiting the race, presumably due to some form of illness…
The Frenchman has a habit of not making it to the finish of Grand Tours – this is the ninth Grand Tour he has participated at, and the seventh time he has abandoned.
His absence ought to make it even likelier that Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) will win the remaining sprinter stages, potentially starting with tomorrow’s flat-ish stage to Punta de Estaca de Bares.