Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) concedes he might not be as fast as he used to be in the bunch sprints, but when the race toughens up, the Norwegian national champion knows he has a shot to win.
Hushovd, 32, is honest enough with himself to admit that he’ll likely lose a faceoff with Mark Cavendish or Tyler Farrar, so that’s why he has to look for new opportunities to win. Thursday’s 151km sixth stage from Caravaca de la Cruz to Murcia fit the bill perfectly.
The short but steep Cat. 2 Cresta del Gallo with 10km from the finish line was perfect for the new-look Hushovd. A reduced group of 70 came in for the sprint, and Cavendish and Farrar were not there.
“I knew the climb was good for me and I thought if sprinters like Cavendish and Farrar couldn’t make it over, I would have a good chance to win,” Hushovd explained. “The stage today was perfect for me and I am happy to win.”
That’s exactly what happened. The only true sprinters to make it over the 1,000-foot climb were Daniele Bennati (Liquigas), Grega Bola (Lampre) and Allan Davis (Astana). And that’s the order they finished – all behind Hushovd.
“When I saw Bennati was there, I knew that was the wheel I had to follow,” Hushovd said. “I was in second or third position at the base of the climb. I dropped back a little bit near the top but was able to regain contact on the descent. Then my teammates helped me.”
Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) also made it safely over the climb to defend his red leader’s jersey. The gritty Belgian doesn’t want to give up the lead without a fight.
“We drove over the climb this morning so I could look it. I knew it was going to be hard, but I had good legs and got over the top without too much difficulty,” said Gilbert, sixth in the stage. “It was a small group, so I knew I could have a chance to win. I missed one more teammate in the group to help position me for the sprint. I am feeling good and I feel like I can still become stronger before the worlds.”
Despite the fireworks, all the major GC favorites finished in the 70-rider group. The GC stalemate looks to continue for at least another day.
Cresta del Gallo
A three-man breakaway hit the base of the short, but steep Cresta del Gallo holding onto a 40-second lead.
The pack was breathing down their neck, with Katusha and Liquigas setting a brutal pace to set up their men. Bichot held on bravely, but when he started looking back and he could see the pack, he was ready to throw in the towel.
Alexander Kolobnev and then Vladimir Karpets led the way for Katusha, keen to spring Rodríguez and position him for the leader’s jersey, but Gilbert was stubbornly hanging on the front.
“We were riding for Rodríguez and for (Filippo) Pozzato. We expected things to break up more, but the GC riders were very cautious to not let anyone get away,” Kolobnev said.
With the GC largely unsettled, there was no way the favorites were going to let stage-hunters make a run for glory. Last year, Simon Gerrans edged Alexander Vinokourov and Ryder Hesjedal, but eventual winner Alejandro Valverde was already in the leader’s jersey.
With Gilbert hanging tough, it was a fight all the way up – and then down the harrowing descent.
Pozzato took the initiative on the descent, drawing out Gilbert. Both are excellent descenders, yet the favorites stayed close, led by Cervélo’s Xavier Tondo, riding to support Hushovd for a reduced bunch sprint. Dimitri Fofonov (Astana) tried his luck on the lower flanks, but the effort was in vain.
Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) both finished in the front group to maintain their solid positions in the GC.
The 65th Vuelta continues Friday with the 187.1km seventh stage from Murcia to Orihuela. The rolling course features a moderate climb at 126km that could give the stage-hunters some hope of fending off the sprinters.
Stage 6 – Top 10
- 1. Thor Hushovd, Cervélo TestTeam, in 3h 36′ 20”
- 2. Daniele Bennati, Liquigas-Doimo, at 0
- 3. Grega Bole, Lampre-Farnese Vini, at 0
- 4. Allan Davis, Astana, at 0
- 5. Filippo Pozzato, Team Katusha, at 0
- 6. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0
- 7. Peter Velits, HTC-Columbia, at 0
- 8. Pablo Urtasun, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 0
- 9. Samuel Dumoulin, Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne, at 0
- 10. Nicholas Roche, Ag2r La Mondiale, at 0
Overall standings, after stage 6
- 1. Philippe Gilbert, Omega Pharma-Lotto , in 22h 36′ 26”
- 2. Igor Anton, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 10
- 3. Joaquin Rodriguez, Team Katusha, at 10
- 4. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Doimo, at 12
- 5. Peter Velits, HTC-Columbia, at 16
- 6. Tejay Van Garderen, HTC-Columbia, at 29
- 7. Xavier Tondo, Cervélo TestTeam, at 49
- 8. Frank Schleck, Team Saxo Bank, at 50
- 9. Ruben Plaza, Caisse D’Epargne, at 54
- 10. Ezequiel Mosquera, Xacobeo Galicia, at 55