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Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) punched away from the pack with 500 meters to go to deny the sprinters in stage 6 of Vuelta a San Juan, Saturday. The veteran Czech rider held off the late chase of Sebastian Molano (UAE-Team Emirates) and Rudy Barbier (Israel Start-Up Nation), who took second and third place.
Behind them, Stybar’s teammate Remco Evenepoel finished in the bunch to retain his 33-second GC lead over Filippo Ganna (Italy).
“Before the start, we were training here and we thought about doing something different, so in the end we decided to anticipate the sprint,” said Stybar. “I’m glad that the team had confidence in me and I could pull it off. It’s my first time here in Argentina and at the beginning of the season you never know what your condition is, so this win is really nice and gives me a big morale-boost.”
The victory comes perfectly timed for Stybar, who will form a key part of Quick-Step’s classics squad and will likely have added responsibility after the departure of classics star Philippe Gilbert, who transferred to Lotto-Soudal in the off-season.
Crosswinds battered the 175-kilometer long stage, and with 80km to go, pressure on the front from sprint teams UAE-Team Emirates, Bora-Hansgrohe and Deceuninck-Quick-Step briefly split down the race into echelons before a turn in the wind allowed the action to come back together 10km down the road.
In the brief calm after the split, a break of four clipped clear, though it was inevitable they would be caught given the likely sprint finish. Sure enough, the escapees were reeled in with 20km to go as the race moved toward its conclusion on the Autódromo Villicum race circuit.
The race stayed together as the peloton spread across the wide roads of the final circuit, with leadout trains looking to leave it as late as possible to start their move. With the peloton still disorganized, Stybar took his chance with two bends remaining and punched away, catching the race off-guard. From there on he proved unstoppable as he held on for victory.
The final stage of the race takes place Sunday. The GC victory will be Evenepoel’s to lose, with the flat criterium around San Juan unlikely to pose any difficulties provided the 20-year-old stays out of trouble.
“Now we have one more stage and we are motivated to end on a high note, trying with Alvaro [Hodeg] for the victory and securing Remco’s jersey,” said Stybar after Saturday’s stage.
Stage 6 results:
- Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 03:56:51
- Sebastian Molano (UAE-Team Emirates)): S.T.
- Rudy Barbier (Israel Start-Up Nation): S.T.
GC after stage 6:
- Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): 20:15:56
- Filippo Ganna (Italy): +0:00:33
- Oscar Sevilla (Team Medellin): +0:01:01