Good afternoon and welcome to Stage 6 of the Vuelta a Espana!
Stage 6: Cuenca - E. E. Aramon Valdelinares, 217.0 km
Today the riders still are facing warm temperatures, but not as brutal as a few days ago. Today is the first big GC day, as the riders face a 217 km ride that ends with the Cat 2 climb of the Alto de San Rafael and the Cat 1 Estacion de Esqui Aramon Valdelinares. Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) thinks that the attacks will come thick and fast on this finishing shunt in the mountains.
At the moment, there are 6 leaders; Joachim, Leblacher, Burgos, Miorin, Moerenhout and Piil. In the meantime Auger, Eisel, Cadamuro, Landis and Solari have left the race. Floyd had a very bad day yesterday, including a flat at about the 10 km to go point. For Domina it's the 4th abandon after 6 days of racing.
This stage today is a very fast one. Several times we have had some echelons with the most important victim the race leader Brad McGee. In the meantime the bunch is grouped again but it's not a good sign for Brad.
The 6 leaders have 3.46 on the bunch.
In other race news: Damiano Cunego wins the Trofeo Melinda. Garzelli 2nd, Mazzanti 3rd, Anza 4th and young gun Giovanni Visconti 5th.
Torsten Schmidt (Gerolsteiner) abandons. 33 km to go.
Other important news; It seems that Giancarlo Feretti has found a new, non-Italian media sponsor for next year. Riders who are named for this team are Gilberto Simoni and young gun Vincenzo Nibali. Also Codol, Sioutsou and some other riders of Fassa without a contract for 2006 can stay with this team.
And some transfer news: 3 times stage winner in the Tour of Germany, Daniele Bennati (Lampre) will join Liquigas next year. And the older brother of Allan Davis (Scott Davis, Tenax) will ride next year for T-Mobile (source: Velomania.net). It's due to Rogers that Davis can sign with T-Mobile.
It's a bit overcast for the riders as they roll through more rather bleak landscape. The peloton is riding very slowly at the moment.
Illes Balears and Communidad Valenciana in the lead of the bunch now. 4.55 the lead of the six.
Today we can expect a motivated and attacking Saunier Duval. Joaquin Rodriguez, third on general classification, wants to win a stage and take over the Amarillo of McGee.
Yesterday we saw that Boonen was preparing the sprint for Bettini. But actually there was something going wrong. Within the team Mercado is the black sheep because he attacked several times which was not planned. Actually they had to work for Tom but Mercado didn't listen. Bettini was going after him to tell him, but Mercado went on. In the last KM Tom closed the gap to Mercado.
But then he came to the front of the race and had to begin the sprint with Paolo in his wheel. The best ranked rider in the stage was indeed Bettini in a disappointing 12th position. (Now we know another reason why Mercado has to leave Quick Step.)
The race says there is a risk of hail at the finish today, at the Estacion de Esqui Aramon Valdelinares. That would be interesting.
16.15 CEST - Communidad Valenciana still in front of the bunch. 23 km to go. They are now on the San Rafael and the break has 5.30.
5.00 left with 21 km to go.
In the Tour of Britain, Luca Paolini wins the stage in Yorkshire ahead of Baumann. Nuyens remains in the lead.
Joachim attacks. Go Benoit! Piil & Moerenhout in the contra-attack. Piil drops Moerenhout. Now 2 leaders (Piil & Joachim). McGee in the back of the peloton with some problems. 4.24 the gap. A rider or 40 dropped off the back...
The groupetto is formed. 3.55 the lead. More riders off the back. McGee still hanging in there.
Now 3 leaders; Leblacher is back, so Leblacher, Piil and Joachim. Though the gold jersey is right at the back, flanked by Marcus Burghardt and Sebastien Joly. Zaballa off the back. 19 km to go.
17 km for the leaders, 19 for the pack, that is. The trio in front still have a lead of 4'08".
Young gun Linus Gerdemann is still hanging in the first group. He is riding beside McGee in the back of the first bunch.
Joachim looks to be labouring in the breakaway, head nodding and eyes fixed on the wheel of Leblacher.
1633 CEST - 15 km to go, 1.2 km till the top of the San Rafael, which is a Category 2 - then the Category One is still to come. 4 minutes the lead of the three.
Now the peloton is riding through the tall pines.
They're resisting well, as Comunidat Valenciana seem to be flying on the front of the bunch. Those Orbea bikes are heavenly...
Piil first at the top of the San Rafael. There's only 2-3 km of downhill respite before the road kicks up again for the long haul to Valdelinares. The Discos are going to help Communidad Valenciana.
Eladio Jimenez and David Latasa are still doing sterling work for Comunidad Valenciana on the front of the pack. Burgos reeled in by the bunch.
Leblacher crashed - whoa! Joachim had to almost come to a stop too, as he was following his line. Piil alone in the lead now.
The back end just slid out for the Frenchman.
3.27 the gap. McGee dropped.
10 km to go - they are now on the last climb. Due to that crash, Piil has a pretty hefty lead over Joachim; the Luxembourger had to swerve right, off course, to avoid Leblacher. Lucky for him there were no barriers, just more road.
Last year they had a finish on top of this climb in the Tour of Aragon. Winner of the stage was Rabo-man Russian Menchov.
3.20 the gap. McGee is back in the bunch. Jakob Piil isn't renowned for his climbing skills, but he's done well thus far.
1644 CEST - 8 km to go. Some great descending by McGee there. Liberty and Illes Balears in the lead of the bunch. This is an ascent which gives several opportunities for riders to rest, with undulating gradients. McGee again off the back.
9 km for the bunch, and the gap is 3'12. Dariusz Baranowski of Liberty is on the front, working for Roberto Heras.
7 km to go. Pereiro off the back.
The bunch goes under the 8km banner. Bettini dropped too. Eladio Jimenez is shelled, after some good work pulling the peloton along. Baranowski is really shredding this bunch now. 2.50 the gap.
Angel Luis Casero dropped. Bingen Fernandez, a DP favourite, is also just falling off the pace. Mancebo is hanging onto Heras' wheel - you'd think him exhausted from his expression, but he looks like that permanently.
Beloki is now in the lead of the bunch.
Beloki is riding better and better in these days. And the "F-Bomb" Bingen Fernandez did a good job to hang on this long. Beloki, Baranowski and Vicioso working.
Termin-Aitor dropped, he is suffering with some injuries after a crash yesterday.
Yes, Euskaltel were pinning their overall hopes on him.
6 km to go, 2.25 the gap. Serrano now also in the lead of the bunch. This is brave stuff from Piil. Piepoli dropped too (also suffering with injuries after a crash).
Liberty Seguros are really lighting it up now. There are 15-20 riders left in the bunch. Simoni dropped. Menchov is poised on Heras's wheel. Danielson dropped.
Beltran dropped. Joaquin Rodriguez and Sevilla are just getting back on as the road flattens temporarily. 5 km to go. Ruben Plaza is also in contact again.
Leblacher reeled in. Serrano off the back after the hard work.
Joachim is also caught. The dream of Quim will not come true. 1'53 to Piil still.
Sastre, Mancebo and Menchov are there; so is a Quick Step - the most likely candidate is Juan Miguel Mercado. Nice work by Scarponi for Heras now. Sevilla dropped - he hit the wall there, and Mancebo had to accelerate to go round him. Comunidad Valencia still have two men hanging in there, Blanco and Carlos Garcia. 1.30 the gap.
Scarponi, Heras, Menchov, Sastre, Mercado, Mancebo, Blanco and Carlos Garcia Quesada are the riders in the group "favorites" behind Piil. Mancebo seems to be struggling right at the back...
1657 CEST - 1.18 the gap, 4 km to go. The pace is very high. Mancebo's at the back of the group but digging deep to stay on, and looking desperately for a chiropractor to fix his neck.
3 km to go, 1.05 left. The stage winner will be one of the riders in the Heras group. Piil goes under the 3km winner, and looks behind as if he expects the leaders to be approaching.
After the critical comments by Mercado yesterday, it seems Mercado is the best men of Quick Step and that he can go for his team's first success in this Vuelta.
Heras and Menchov attacking.
The Comunidad Valencia following them has blown. Mancebo is off the back. Sastre is in difficulty. Carlos Garcia Quesada comes back. Piil with 45 sec.
Must have been Blanco who cracked. Heras and Menchov looking like they will duel today for the win, and for the next two weeks for the overall victory.
Great ride by Garcia, who deserves a ProTour contract - he was fifth overall last year.
Carlos Garcia Quesada will ride for Saunier Duval next year. Carlos Garcia dropped, 2 km to go. Jakob Piil is in the leading pair's sights now; he will be caught.
Piil reeled in and dropped - Heras and Menchov in the lead.
Menchov is faster than Heras so Denis can gain his 2nd stage win.
I wouldn't be so sure; Heras is looking strong, accelerating again and again.
By the way, Menchov is 14 seconds in front of Heras overall. If they finish together, the Russian will take the gold jersey.
Carlos Garcia Quesada and Blanco together in the pursuit now. Menchov dropped. Heras will gain the stage and the leaders jersey...
Superb riding by Heras - he just hauled himself out of the saddle, danced on the pedals and shot away.
Flamme Rouge. Menchov is now suffering, head down, willing his legs to go faster. Menchov at 10 seconds.
He's looking ragged in his pedalling style. But Heras is really flying, the mighty mountain smurf. For Heras it will be his first season victory. Menchov can see the cars and motorbikes around Heras.
Heras wins the stage!! Menchov 2nd at 12 seconds. Heras is the new leader - looking to become the all-time greatest Vuelta champion... and with this win, he is well on his way to #4.
Blanco 3rd at 27 sec, Carlos Garcia 4th at 41 seconds. Mercado 5th, Mancebo 6th and Sastre 7th.
Heras went hard all the way to line, only stopping to celebrate afterwards.
The Liberty Seguros workhorses come in 1'05" down. Rodriguez and a Discovery Channel just came in, 1'21 down. It could be Danielson, but more likely to be Azevedo. Sevilla loses 1.45, Beloki at 2.02. It was a brave ride by Joseba today.
Aitor Gonzalez loses 4.00. So does Piepoli. Pereiro at 4.52.
Gonzalez looked great in the Tour de Suisse... perhaps he should have ridden the Tour de France, and then made the Vuelta a 2nd priority.
In other racing news, Piotr Wadecki wins the 2nd stage in the Hessen Tour and Lars Bak wins the 1st stage in the Tour de L'Avenir.
More stage standings: 8. Piil, 9. Serrano, 10. Scarponi.
So Danielson did well to finish only 1' 40" back. Good look for the future for that man.
2. Menchov at 6 sec
3. Sastre at 1.01
4. Joaquin Rodriguez
7. Carlos Garcia Quesada
Heras could well win the mountains jersey and the GC. But McGee loses 11.45 today.
Top Twenty Stage:
1. HERAS, Roberto ESP LSW 5:27:20
2. MENCHOV, Denis RUS RAB a 13
3. BLANCO, David ESP ECV a 28
4. GARCIA QUESADA, Carlos ESP ECV a 42
5. MERCADO, Juan Miguel ESP QST a 49
6. MANCEBO, Francisco ESP IBA m.t.
7. SASTRE, Carlos ESP CSC m.t.
8. PIIL, Jakob DEN CSC a 52
9. SERRANO, Marcos ESP LSW a 1:15
10. SCARPONI, Michele ITA LSW m.t.
11. RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin ESP SDV a 1:22
12. BELTRAN, Manuel ESP DSC m.t.
13. SIMONI, Gilberto ITA LAM a 1:40
14. PLAZA, Ruben ESP ECV m.t.
15. JUFRE, Josep ESP REF m.t.
16. YUS, Unai ESP BTL m.t.
17. DANIELSON, Tom USA DSC m.t.
18. GONZALEZ, Santos ESP PHO m.t.
19. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP TMO a 1:45
20. PEREZ, Luis ESP COF m.t.
Good result for Simoni today too, considering this isn't an Italian race... (only joking.)
Trying to impress the new sponsors, maybe. Well, if Feretti can buy Simoni for his new team the Quick Step soap is over.
Thanks for reading today, and join us again tomorrow for another interesting Vuelta stage, this time with four Category 3 climbs in the earlier part of the stage, then a long sloping ride into Vinaros. We hope to see you then!
Commentary today by Locutus, Andy McDobbin and Bart Hazen of