Following a frenetic final sprint at the end of stage six of the Tour de Suisse, a photo finish was needed to confirm the stage winner at the top of the Moosalp mountain. Nico Denz (Team DSM) eventually took the honours and with them his first ever victory in a WorldTour race.
With much of the peloton depleted by covid, the breakaway were left to fight it out as the race reached the summit of the HC category Swiss mountain.
As they hit the final 6km to go, Fausto Masnada (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) sensed the win was up for grabs and launched a series of stinging attacks.
However, all this did was cause the pace to slow as he was caught and allowed the king of the mountains leader, American Quinn Simmons (Trek Segafredo), to reach the leaders before launching a powerful sprint at 300 metres to go that nobody could initially answer.
Clément Champoussin (AG2R-Citröen) and Masnada along with Nico Denz (Team DSM) were able to get back on terms. Denz then passed both Champussin, Jose Herrada (Cofidis) and Simmons on the line to take a stage win for Team DSM.
Further back down the road Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) tried an attack in the group of favourites but Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) was quick to shut it down. The favourites rolled into the finish as a group and Jakob Fuglsang (Israel Premier-Tech) retained the overall lead.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Twenty-nine riders did not start the sixth stage, including Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) the race leader due to his positive covid test. Due to Vlasov being withdrawn by his team, Jakob Fuglsang (Israel Premier-Tech) was in the leaders jersey as the race rolled out of Locarno by Lago Maggiore.
Amidst the early flurry of attacks, three riders managed to establish a small gap. They were Fausto Masnada (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Quentin Pacher (Groupama-FDJ) and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar). Just behind them was a group of seven riders consisting of Jose Herrada (Cofidis), Clement Champoussin (AG2R-Citröen), Roland Thalmann (Switzerland), Dion Smith (BikeExchange-Jayco), Andrea Pasqualon (Intermarché-Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Brent Van Moer (Lotto-Soudal) and King of the Mountains leader Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo).
The two groups up the road eventually merged and Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) was attempting to bridge across from the main bunch. Despite the approaching mountains, the riders were travelling at 51.4 kph, a ferocious pace. At 137 km to go, the day's breakaway was well established and soon had a gap of 1.20 over the peloton. The gap soon doubled to over three minutes.
At 134 km to go, the route began to steadily rise and would continue until the riders reached the summit of the Nufenenpass, the first of two Hors Categorie climbs of the day. Denz and Matthews were now in the group to make the breakaway a group of 12. The gap between the breakaway and peloton soon reached 4-25 with Masnada as the best placed of the riders ahead at 9-04 on GC.
At 97 kilometres to go the race was firmly onto the Nufenenpass and climbing. The biggest mountain of this year's race is also the highest paved mountain pass (though not the highest road) in Switzerland, at 2,478 metres above sea level. As the climbing began the break soon increased their gap further to six minutes. Masnada raised the tempo and due to the increase in pace, and the temperature, the rest of the break began to suffer. Dion Smith was dropped from the group.
With the gap to the leaders now at 7.30, Astana-Qazaqstan took over from Ineos Grenadiers and Israel-Premier Tech on the front of the bunch and were driving on behind the race leaders. Simmons, was first over the top of the Nufenenpass boosting his lead in the king of the mountains classification. As the teams on the front of the peloton pushed on the gap to the breakaway was cut to 5-34.
The 40km long and winding descent off of the Nufenen saw the peloton hit over 100kph in their chase. Daryl Impey (Israel Premier-Tech) was on the front and even on the descents, the riders were doing all they could to stay cool and hydrated. The television pictures showed many riders spraying water over their heads hoping for some relief from the heat.
Once the riders were off of the Nufenenpass and with under 53km to go, the pace in the peloton began to ease. As no riders of major importance to the GC were in the breakaway, Fuglsang and his Israel Premier-Tech teammates seemed reluctant to chase. Although in order to keep him safe, the Danish rider had three of his team-mates around him. The gap to the breakaway was now at 6.25.
As the race rolled under 45km to go, the gap to the leaders was at 6.49 and they were expected to be left out front to fight amongst themselves for the stage win. At 41 kilometres to go, the gap hovered at around seven minutes as the race went into the valley road prior to the final climb at Moosalp. At 37km, Matthews then mopped up the intermediate sprint at 38 km at Naters taking maximum points in the process. The points jersey was now well within the grasp of the Australian rider.
At 25 km to go Matthews cleaned up at the second sprint at Vesp putting him in the overall lead of the points classification displacing Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM).
As the break went under 20 km to go, the gap dropped to 5.25 and eleven riders still had the lead.
At 15 km to go the race hit the start of the final climb, the Moosalp and immediately the breakaway began to shatter. Denz and Quentin Pacher (Groupama-FDJ) pushed on and were swiftly joined by Simmons and Masnada. Simmons had his eye on the stage win and all but wrapping up the king of the mountains competition.
With 14 km to go and Pacher was dropped with Masnada looking by far the strongest remaining rider. The Italian was consistently out of the saddle and looking to shell the others but it was to no avail.
The work of Masnada eventually paid off and Simmons, his biggest threat, was dropped leaving just Masnada and Denz up the road. Meanwhile Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) moved to the front of the main field. Were we going to see a move from Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) as the peloton began to climb?
Meanwhile, the question up ahead was who would take the stage win, Masnada or Denz? Either way, Masnada’s climbing performance was impressive. At 6km to go Israel-Premier Tech were on the front of the main group but it was Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) who launched an attack.
With 3km to go the leading duo were joined by Champoussin and José Herrada . Masnada sensing that the stage win was up for grabs launched a stinging attack coming out of a hairpin but was unable to drop the rest of the group. In the peloton Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech) was looking comfortable and able to respond to attacks from his rivals. Meanwhile as Champoussin (AGTR Citreon) did up his jersey, Masnada on the drops would go again.
With just 300 meters to go Simmons was back with the leaders. The American then launched a violent attack to lead out the sprint which was matched by both Champoussin, Masnada and Nico Denz. The five riders, including Herrada, powered to the line and were separated by just a bike throw that gave Denz the stage win ahead of Champoussin in second and Herrada in third.
Just behind them Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) launched an attack in a bid to take the lead from Fuglsang. Thomas briefly had space but was quickly joined by Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) moving both riders up into second and third overall respectively. Thomas now sits just a single second behind Fuglsang going into the weekend and the race conclusion.
TOUR DE SUISSE STAGE SIX: LOCARNO TO MOOSALP (177.5 KM)
1. Nico Denz (Ger) Team DSM, in 5-11-14
2. Clément Champoussin (Fra) AG2R-Citroën
3. Jose Herrada (Spa) Cofidis
4. Quinn Simmons (USA) Trek–Segafredo
5. Fausto Masnada (Ita) Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl at 11s
6. Quentin Pacher (Fra) Groupama-FDJ at 1-33
7. Roland Thalmann (Swi) Team Vorarlberg at 1-46
8. Geraint Thomas (GBR) Ineos Grenadiers at 2-14
9. Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Israel – Premier Tech both at same time
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE SIX
1. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Israel-Premier Tech, in 27-30-30
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1s
3. Sergio Andres Higuita Garcia (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 10s
4. Neilson Powless (USA) EF Education-EasyPost, at 26s
5. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 34s
6. Andreas Leknessund (Nor) Team DSM, at 46s
7. Stefan Küng (Sui) Groupama FDJ, at 49s
8. Andreas Kron (Den) Lotto Soudal, at 49s
9. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Intermarché–Wanty–Gobert Matériaux, at 1-07
10. Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-29
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