Michael Matthews (Sunweb) defeated Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Merida) in a photo finish to win stage six of the Volta a Catalunya.
The win is the Matthews’ second in the race having also triumphed in stage two, and overtakes Friday’s winner Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the points classification.
A mere tyre-width separated the two riders after they lunged simultaneously to the line, a margin so small that neither knew who had won until the result was confirmed a minute or so later.
Patrick Bevin (CCC Team) kicked-off the sprint, but appeared to go to early as Matthews, Bauhaus and Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) overtook him to claim the podium places.
Bauhaus attempted to pass Matthews in the final metres, and seemed to be inching closer and closer to doing so, but the Australian just about managed to hold him off.
Miguel Ángel López (Astana) maintained his overall lead, and even threatened to extend his advantage during an unexpected late flurry of action among some of the GC contenders.
First Movistar attempted to break up the race in crosswinds, as they increased the pace at the front of the peloton as the raced along the sea front 6.5km from the line.
Then, after Astana asserted control at the front, López took everyone by surprise when he burst out of the front inside the final 3km, in pursuit of Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) who had made a move moments before.
The duo were caught 1,500 metres from the line, but López remained close enough to the front of the peloton to land an eighth place finish in the bunch sprint.
How it happened
Having missed out on the chance to compete for the stage thanks to Schachmann’s dramatic breakaway on stage five, the sprinters were keen not to be denied this time around.
One sprinter who would not feature was Andre Greipel (Arkea-Samsic), who abandoned overnight citing fatigue.
The route did not look like it would automatically produce a bunch finish, however. Although there were only officially two category three climbs, the roads undulated up and down throughout the day, offering potential encouragement for any breakaways.
Adjustments made to the route at the start of the day seemed to also swing the favour towards attackers. An extra uphill loop was added to the start of the stage, and the run-in to the line following the final climb was reduced from around 95km to just 52km.
A five man group broke clear at the start of the day, featuring Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r La Mondiale), Josef Černy (CCC Team), Floris De Tier (Jumbo-Visma), Mikel Iturria (Euskadi-Murias) and Oscar Riesebeek (Roompot-Charles).
Iturria gained maximum points over the first climb and Bouchard on the second, but neither posed any threat to Thomas De Gendt’s (Lotto-Soudal) lead in the mountains classification.
Their gap over the peloton was never allowed to grow especially large. It hovered at around two minutes, before beginning to plummet inside the final 30km.
They were eventually caught by the peloton 12km from the finish.
Although generally a calm day, there were a few crashes of note. One 15km from the line involved Simon Yates but thankfully the Mitchelton-Scott rider was able to remount and bridge back within 5km.
A few attackers attempted to ruin the sprinters day, including Brice Feillu (Arkea-Samsic), who dangled off the front for a couple of kilometres just after the race went under the 10km to go banner.
Formolo and López’s move looked to be the most dangerous of these, but that too was just about neutralised, setting up the sprint finish won by Matthews.
The Volta a Catalunya concludes tomorrow with the usual circuit around Barcelona, which features enough climbing to potentially provoke changes in the GC.
Volta a Catalunya 2019 stage six: Valls to Vila-seca (169.1km)
1. Michael Matthews (Aus) Sunweb, in 3-56-36
2. Phil Bauhaus (Ger) Bahrain-Merida
3. Daryl Impey (RSA) Mitchelton-Scott
4. Patrick Bevin (NZl) CCC Team
5. Mikel Gardoki (Esp) Euskadi Basque Country-Murias
6. Hugo Hofstetter (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
7. Ryan Gibbons (RSA) Dimension Data
8. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana Pro Team
9. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe
10. Enric Mas (Esp) Deceuninck – Quick Step, all at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, in 25-53-41
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 14 seconds
3. Egan Bernal (Col) Team Sky, at 17s
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 25s
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, at 46s
6. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 56s
7. Michael Woods (Can) EF Education First, at 1-42
8. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1-44
9. Rafal Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 2-27
10. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar Team, at 2-36