Joachim Rodriguez wins stage 6. Photo: Graham...

Joaquim Rodriguez defends Vuelta lead with stage-6 victory

Rodriguez beats rival Froome to the line in stage 6 as both put time on Contador

JACA, Spain (VN) — Race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) defended his red jersey the hard way on Thursday, beating rival Chris Froome (Sky) to the line in stage 6 of the Vuelta a España.

The two were part of an elite group that swept up the lone survivor of the day’s break, Thomas De Gendt (Vancansoleil-DCM), on the slopes of the final ascent to Jaca. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) was there, along with Nicolas Roche (Ag2r La Mondiale), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and a number of other contenders, but nobody could match Froome and Rodriguez when the two shot away in the final 500 meters.

In turn, Froome had no answer for Rodriguez’s final acceleration and had to settle for second on the day, ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

“I sped up just in case because I did not know who was behind me. At no time did I know where Valverde, who was the most dangerous rider, was,” Rodriguez said. “I am very happy. I knew I could beat Froome, I saw him stuck in the last minute.”

Both Rodriguez and Froome put time into Contador, who now sits third behind the two men, 35 seconds off the pace.

“This was not a good climb for me,” said Contador. “It really wore me down because the pace was really fast and I had muscle cramps as well. I think I was a little dehydrated at the end because of the heat.”

The slightly rolling, 175.4km leg from Tarzona to Jaca included a pair of category 3 climbs. The first, the Puerto del Oroel, was 12km long but averaged only 2.8 percent. The second, which led to the finish, was the Fuerte del Rapitán, a 3.8km ascent averaging 5.4 percent.

The break du jour included De Gendt, best-placed in the escape at 7:22 behind Rodriguez; Kristof Vandewalle (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge); Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp); and Joost Van Leijen (Lotto-Belisol).

With 77km covered the break held to a gap of 3:20.

But that advantage fell rapidly came down as a torrid pace edited both break and bunch, leaving De Gendt to go it alone before the penultimate climb of the day, clinging to 50 seconds’ advantage.

He could not hold it, however, getting snatched up less than 4km from the line, and the contenders for the overall proved to be the rivals for the stage as well.

Race results >>

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the 2012 Vuelta a España.