Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) sprinted to victory on stage six of the 2018 Vuelta a España, beating Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) to the line.
The final of the stage was blighted by crosswinds, splitting the peloton into several groups, however the key sprinters still made it into the front.
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In the end it was Quick-Step who were able to lead things out into the final straight, but their sprinter Viviani was too far back to challenge for victory. It was European Champion Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) who led it out with his sprint, but provided a perfect launch pad for van Poppel and Bouhanni who fought to the line.
It was the Frenchman who was able to hold his slight advantage in front though, beating the Dutchman to take a long-awaited Grand Tour victory, with his last coming at the Vuelta in 2014.
In the overall, most of the key players were able to make the front selection, however Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) both found themselves well behind, the former thanks to a puncture at just under 19km to go.
In the end, the pair were unable to rescue much time after losing ground, seeing their GC hopes take a huge knock after arriving 1-44 back on the stage.
Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) retains the red jersey after finishing safely in the front group.
How it happened
The 155.7km sixth stage of the Vuelta looked destined to end in a bunch sprint, and the peloton were happy to oblige in taking things a bit easier under the hot sun of southern Spain.
That didn’t stop three riders getting up the road in a breakaway though, with king of the mountains Luis Ángel Maté (Cofidis), Jorge Cubero (Burgos-BH) and most notably, Richie Porte (BMC Racing) getting in the break.
That trio were allowed to easily get away, but were only given a maximum advantage of around four minutes.
That situation remained more or less the same for much of the day, with gap gradually drifting down to under two minutes in the final 50km with no chance of them staying away, despite the bunch riding at such a serene pace.
With the likes of Quick-Step Floors coming to the front of the peloton in the final 40km and the gap down to around 30 seconds, Cubero decided to have a go alone with 30km remaining, leaving Porte and Maté to drift back to the peloton.
The Spaniard’s move didn’t last long though, and the race was back together with under 29km to go.
Some central reservation bollards with 26km to go then caused a crash in the peloton, with Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), Victor Campenaerts (Lotto-Soudal) and Mike Teunissen (Sunweb) among those to hit the deck.
The pace really began to ramp up then with teams like Bora-Hansgrohe driving it on, and with 20km the speed caused echelons to form in a straight, exposed area of road.
Overall hopeful Wilco Kelderman then suffered an untimely puncture with 18.8km to go, dropping over a minute behind, meaning he had a job on his hands to make it back to the front of the race with the speed now really high.
Thibaut Pinot was the other main GC favourite to get caught out, dropping into the third echelon on the road at a minute back to the peloton which was being driven on by EF Education First-Drapac with 14km to go.
The Kelderman and Pinot groups came together with around 8km to go, but still remained at 1-40 down as the sprinters’ teams drove the leading group.
They struggled to make a dent into the leaders’ advantage, finishing 1-44 down as it all came down to a chaotic sprint after a frenetic end to the stage.
Bouhanni was able curb some of his recent frustrations with that victory, and may have an eye on Friday’s stage seven which could also culminate in a bunch finish, with 185.7km from Puerto Lumbreras to Pozo Alcón to come.
Vuelta a España 2018, stage six: Huércal-Overa – San Javier. Mar Menor (155.7k)
1 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits, in 3-58-35
2 Danny van Poppel (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
3 Elia Viviani (Ita) Quick-Step Floors
4 Simone Consonni (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
5 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Mitchelton-Scott
6 Ivan Garcia (Esp) Bahrain-Merida
7 Omar Fraile (Esp) Astana Pro Team
8 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team
9 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
10 Michael Mørkøv (Den) Quick-Step Floors, all same time
66 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb, at 1-44
67 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at same time
Overall classification after stage six
1 Rudy Molard (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, in 22-26-15
2 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky, at 41s
3 Emanuel Buchmann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 48s
4 Simon Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott, at 51s
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team, at 53s
6 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Bahrain-Merida, at 1-11
7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, at 1-14
8 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, at same time
9 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-18
10 Enric Mas (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-23