Chris Froome (Team Sky) survived another day in the overall race lead at the Vuelta a España after Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) attempted to apply pressure on the stage six’s final classified climb.
Froome managed to match Contador’s accelerations on the category two Puerto del Garbi to finish safely in a group of favourites and retain the red jersey of general classification leader, extending his lead.
Although Contador started the day over three minutes down on Froome overall, the British leader was not going to give the Spaniard any room to regain time on him.
Although it may have failed to shake off Froome, Contador’s aggressive tactics did put several other GC contenders in difficulty, with Fabio Aru (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) all temporarily distanced.
Ahead of the fight for overall time, Tomasz Marczynski (Lotto-Soudal) took the stage victory ahead of Polish compatriot Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Spaniard Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors). The trio had been part of the day’s original 37-rider break.
The large escape group had formed with the opening 40km of the day’s 204.4km towards the first of five classified climbs – ideal breakaway territory. Unfortunately for 36 of the riders in the break, the presence of Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) meant that they would be carefully kept in check by the bunch.
Sanchez started the day in 28th place overall behind Froome, at just three minutes and 24 seconds – simply too close to the race lead to let him gain too much time.
On the final, steep climb of the day the break had been reduced down and started to break apart. So, too, did the following peloton.
Contador was by far the most active rider in the bunch, hitting the front as the climb hit its steepest ramps of over 20 per cent. Riding on the front, the Spaniard set a relentless pace that few could follow. Initially, Froome’s Sky lieutenant Wout Poels assisted in keeping in touch with Contador, but when Poels swung off it was down to Froome to do his own work.
Contador was joined for a spell by team-mate Jarlinson Pantano, who had been one of the riders in the original break, before Pantano also swung off.
Froome kept in touch with Contador, as both riders kept checking over their shoulder at the damage being done on the climb. There were only a handful of rivals with them over the top – but that group got even smaller as American Tejay van Garderen (BMC) inexplicably crashed with Carlos Betancur (Movistar).
Contador and Froome were joined by Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) from the original break, and the trio hit the descent of the final climb together.
Various groups joined forces on the road, with riders being caught from the break and others from the peloton catching up after being dropped.
A slight easing in the pace after the descent meant that Roche, Aru, Nibali, Chaves and others regained contact with Froome and Contador with around 25km to go.
Van Garderen was still working hard to get back in touch with the Froome group, but suffered a second setback when he crashed on a roundabout. He quickly remounted, but was left to chase on his own with a selection of injuries.
In the fight for the stage win, Mas, Marczynski and Poljanski were working well to keep former escape companions Sanchez and Polanc at bay. It became clear into the final kilometre that the win would be contested from the trio, with Marczynski sprinting ahead of his rivals to take his first Grand Tour win.
Froome, Contador, Roche, Aru, Nibali and Chaves all finished together at 26 seconds, with van Garderen at 46 seconds.
Froome leads Chaves overall by 11 seconds, with Roche in third at 13 seconds. Van Garderen slips to fourth overall at 30 seconds with Contador in 23rd at 3-10.
The 2017 Vuelta a España continues on Friday with stage seven from Llíria to Cuenca Ciudad Patrimonio de la Humanidad. The stage starts with an uphill section before flattening out – there’s then a category three climb around 14km from the finish which could serve as a launchpad for a stage-winning move.
Vuelta a España 2017, stage six: Vila-real to Sagunt, 204.4km
1. Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Lotto-Soudal, in 4-47-02
2. Pawel Poljanski (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe
3. Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at same time
4. Luis Leon Sanchez (Esp) Astana, at 8 secs
5. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at same time
6. Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Sunweb, at 26 secs
7. Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
8. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
9. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana
10. Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott, at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, in 22-54-38
2. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott, at 11 secs
3. Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing, at 13 secs
4. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing, at 30 secs
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, at 36 secs
6. David De La Cruz (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 40 secs
7. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, at 49 secs
8. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 50 secs
9. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac, at 1-13
10. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-Scott, at 1-26