Dauphiné stage 6: Bilbao wins while Thomas increases overall lead

Pello Bilbao (Astana) rode away from his breakaway companions to win the sixth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Pello Bilbao (Astana) rode away from his breakaway companions to win solo atop La Rosière during the sixth stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Saturday. Overall race leader Geraint Thomas (Sky) was second, with stage 5 winner Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) coming in third.

Bilbao got the biggest win of his career coming off his recent 6th place overall at the recent Giro d’Italia. The Basque noted fatigue from the Giro as his motivation for racing from the break.

“It is really amazing. Yesterday I had a bad day. I paid all the efforts of the Giro. I was completely done, no energy, because the people here are much fresher than me. Today I had good legs and I wanted to give something to them because they believe in me.

I knew the breakaway was better for me because I am not fresh but I have very good rhythm. The legs weren’t perfect, in the last climb I had a small gap, but I knew the last 5km were easier and in that terrain, I could better maintain the distance. It is unbelieve for me.”

The short but difficult stage featured incredibly aggressive racing from the A2GR team of Romain Bardet, who whittled down to peloton only 16 riders with 52 kilometers remaining. The surprise attack was reminiscent of similar assaults the French team has mounted in their home region and left the Sky team of race leader Thomas with only two teammates on as the race began the descent into the final climb with 28-kilometers remaining.

Bardet attempted to use his local knowledge and bike handling skills to distance Thomas on the descent, but he was brought to heel as the reduced peloton began the final climb of the day, La Rosière.

Thomas was soon joined by a second teammate, Jonathan Castroviejo, and the British team wasted no team in setting a hard tempo on the lower slopes as the breakaway dangled at 24 seconds.

When the catch looked imminent, Bilbao set off on his own. Behind, the pace in the remaining peloton ramped up and a select group of Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Bardet, Thomas, Martin, Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) rode away in pursuit of the lone leader.

Buchmann and Yates were briefly dropped but the Briton was able to claw his way back to the group of the favorites, while the young German was left chasing alone. With 3.4km remaining and Bilbao in sight, Martin threw down an unsuccessful attack that ended cooperation in the group.

Bilbao was able to use the slowing in the group to extend his lead and cross the finish line with 21-seconds to spare, while Thomas attacked out of the group of overall contenders to take second place and put two seconds between himself and Martin, who rounded out the podium in third.

Tomorrow’s final stage, 136-kilometers from Moûtiers to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, features two climbs en route with a 10km climb to the finish line. The difficult route means even with a minute and a half lead, Thomas’s GC lead isn’t safe until the stage is over.