Alexey Lutsenko blasted clear of his rivals to take the first breakaway victory of the 2020 Tour de France.
The Kazakhstani rider made it into an elite eight-rider breakaway that got away from the peloton almost immediately after the flag dropped on stage six, with the group comfortably making onto the final climbs ahead of the bunch.
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With the peloton still trailing by three minutes as the road ramped up, Lutsenko (Astana) was able to leave behind the likes of Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) and Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) to set up a dual with Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling).
Lutsenko powered clear of Powless on the Col de la Lusette, extending the distance to the peloton over the final 10km and held off a surge from Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) to score a solo victory.
Mitchelton-Scott’s Yates finishes safely in the bunch to defend his race lead for the first day.
How it happened
After a bizarrely quiet day on stage four, the riders of Tour de France 2020 peloton were ready for a fight on day six with a 191km stage from Le Teil to Mont Aigoual.
The stage was mostly flat with a few lumps along the way, until riders hit the 140km mark when the climbing started and the fireworks were expected.
Climbing started at 143km with the third category Cap de Coste, which is only 2km at 7.3 per cent, but then the road turned up even more.
The final 35km was made up of three climbs separated by very brief downhill sections – the Col de Mourèzes (5.8km at 5.1 per cent), Col de la Lusette (11.7km at 7.3 per cent), and then finally an uncategorised climb to the finish at Mont Aigoual, which is still a tough 8.3km-long at four per cent, with a finishing altitude of 1,560m.
In contrast to the previous day, there was a huge battle to make the day’s breakaway with four riders making an escape almost immediately.
After a some frantic chasing and a few changes, eight riders eventually established themselves as the day’s powerful breakaway with some huge talent making it up the road.
Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) was the best-placed rider on general classification to get into the move and he was joined by Nicolas Roche (Sunweb) Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Jesús Herrada (Cofidis), Neilson Powless (EF Pro Cycling), Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT Pro Cycling), and Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe)
The breakaway built a strong advantage that reached upwards of six minutes on the rolling terrain in the opening 100km of the stage, before the peloton began to close down the advantage with the finish in mind.
Into the key stages of the race with around 40km left to race, Ineos Grenadiers took on the chasing duties at the front of the bunch and it was the first time we’d seen their familiar mountain train in action.
The break began to fall apart at the very foot of the Col de la Lusette with Oss and Boasson Hagen the first to lose contact as Cavagna attacked.
With around 20km to race Powless launched a string of attacks which dropped Van Avermaet, Roche and Herrada, with Lutsenko the only rider strong enough to stick with the American, as the peloton knocked the gap down to three minutes.
Powless’s attacks took their toll however and Lutsenko capitalised to escape solo and distance Powless by 20 seconds with 16km to the line.
Lutsenko crested the Lusette with a 30-second gap over the chasers from the breakaway and an increased gap of 3-15 back to the peloton, with a short descent to tackle before the road ramped up again in the final 10km.
Herrada was resurgent in the closing stages of the race but Lutsenko was untouchable as he paced his effort perfectly to take victory, almost a minute ahead of the Spaniard, with Greg Van Avermaet outsprinting Powless for third.
Back in the peloton, Ineos held the front with an iron grip and with Michał Kwiatkowski putting on the power, none of their GC rivals were tempted into an attacked.
The favourites all came into the final locked to each other’s wheels, before Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) kicked clear of the peloton and took back just one second, having lost 20 seconds due to a time penalty the previous day.
Adam Yates still holds the yellow jersey by three seconds over Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič.
The 2020 Tour de France route continues with another probable sprint stage, as the riders take on a 168km run from Millau to Lavaur with three lower category climbs early in the stage, before the flat run to the finish.
Tour de France 2020, stage six: Le Teil to Mont Aigoul (191km)
1. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana, in 4-32-34
2. Jesús Herrada (Esp) Cofidis, at 55 seconds
3 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) CCC Team, at 2-15
4. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Pro Cycling, at 2-17
5. Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, at 2-52
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo, at 2-53
7. Michał Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers
8. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers
9. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers
10. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, all at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, in 27-03-57
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 3s
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 7s
4. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 9s
5. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 13s
6. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Jumbo-Visma
7. Esteban Chaves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott
8. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa-Samsic
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale
10. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana , all at same time