Stage 6, as it turned out, wasn’t one for the break, nor for the fast men like Meersman; instead, it came down to a lone late attacker in the form of Orica’s Simon Yates. After the day’s break was at last being reeled in on the final, uncategorized climb of the day, Movistar played an interesting hand by sending Dani Moreno up the road after the then sole leader, Matthias Frank. Yates almost immediately chased the move down, and rode breezily past both Moreno and Frank. With little over 2km remaining at the summit of that final springboard, the 20 seconds Yates managed to take whilst the favourites looked at one another was enough to secure success, and he held on to the gap till the line. 20 seconds later there were indeed quick men like Luis Leon Sánchez and Fabio Felline racing for the minor places, along with the favourites group, but Meersman was way off the back. There was little change in G.C., save for Rubén Férnandez slipping way out of the top 10 to 33rd place, allowing Simon Yates to enter into the 10th spot for Orica.
The daily tussle between the breakaway and the peloton has been fantastic to watch, but a nightmare to predict. Stage 7 follows that pattern, and we could easily have another bunch sprint, or else a quality breakaway. It’s another short day in the saddle so the pace will be fierce from the get go, which may make it tough for a break to get away early on. The profile is a steady journey uphill from start to finish, with some tactfully placed descents along the way that should entice attacks throughout the stage. In theory, this could be a very exciting day’s racing.
The riders will here begin their journey to the Asturias mountain range, which will be the setting for much of Stage 8. The first 20km will be a bunfight of riders trying to make the breakaway. Many of the same that tried on stage 6, including Omar Fraile, Jan Bakelants, Mathias Frank, and Andrey Zeits, were only caught in the final 20km, so depending on how their legs feel they could be right up there again, and they are exactly the type of riders who would suit a stage like this. Add to that list Simon Clarke, Philippe Gilbert, Nathan Haas, Kenny Elissonde, and Zdeněk Štybar.
After this likely frantic opening they will reach the category 3 Puerto de Allariz (6.8km, 4.4%), followed by a short descent of a few kilometres which leads onto a flat section of around 20km. Then there’s another uncategorized climb before a 10km descent which leads to the bottom of the hardest climb of the day, the category 3 Alto de Fumaces (11.2km, 4.3%). After this mid-stage test, the road undulates, but generally points uphill for the next 60km. This is the crucial zone where it will be decided whether the breakaway makes it today or not, as the undulating roads will make it tough for the peloton to tap out a regular rhythm and reel back a large and strong group. Whomever reaches the summit of the category 3 Alto de Padornelo (7km, 3.2%) — which comes with 18.5km remaining — will have an excellent chance of stage success. It’s all downhill from there until the line, save for a final kick up in the last 500m or so. It’s a 5.5% gradient for that short rise, which will feel like torture at the end of a day like this, but it’s unlikely to wreck the chances of a strong attacker. If any sort of bunch makes it under the red banner together, though, then would-be winners will need to have packed their best sprint.
We’ve mentioned a few possible breakaway candidates, but classic fast men like Fabio Felline (3rd yesterday), Gianni Meersman, Enrico Battaglin, Jean-Pierre Drucker, and Tosh Van der Sande can all handle a profile like this, and if they are in the final selection then they will be the favourites for a win. With a big test over the next few days, the G.C. men should be concerned with rolling home in a bunch, but, hey, Alejandro Valverde, and Danni Moreno of Movistar and Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates of Orica Bike-Exchange have all looked feisty, so a dig from any of them can’t be ruled out. If that is the case, then the other contenders will need to follow their wheels. Movistar also have Férnandez, who we mentioned has dropped out of serious G.C. contention altogether now. If Movistar want a stage win here, then he might be there best bet.
It’s set to be a classic Vuelta stage tomorrow, with many an outcome possible. But as we said upfront, we feel it’s a breakaways day, and two men stand out. Omar Fraile went exceptionally well today, and racked up the KOM points on offer, but he was caught with 20km to go and then rolled in 13 minutes behind the leaders, saving his legs for bigger tests to come. His aim is the KOM competition, and at the moment he sits 4 points behind Alexandre Geniez, so another day out in the break should snatch him the jersey before the high mountains. The last climb is near enough to the finish, so why not hold out for the stage win? We have been big fans of Kenny Ellisonde since his win on top of the Angliru in 2013, and so far this race he has looked to be in great form, and attacked a number of times already. He finished 5th on stage 6, and he might just go a few better today from a break away.