Norwegian road-race champion Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) showed Garmin-Transitions boss Jonathan Vaughters exactly what he can expect from him when he joins the new Garmin-Cervelo squad next season by winning stage six of the Vuelta a Espana into Murcia on Thursday.
The 70-strong group of riders who distanced themselves from the rest over the Cresta de Gallo was led into the final few kilometres by Hushovd’s Cervelo team-mates, with Liquigas attempting to set up their man Daniele Bennati and Astana working for Allan Davis. The trio of fast-men were the only pure sprinters left in a group that included all of the overall contenders, with Saxo Bank’s Schleck brothers, Liquigas’s Vincenzo Nibali, Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and current race leader Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) all finishing comfortably.
An early breakaway of three riders – Markus Eichler (Milram), Juan Javier Estrada (Andalucia-CajaSur) and Bbox Bouygues Telecom’s Freddy Bichot – escaped just after the stage start in Caravaca de la Cruz, and dangled in front of the peloton until the climb of the Cresta del Gallo with 20km left to go where Filippo Pozzato’s Katusha team, led by Vladimir Karpets and Russian road-race champion Alexandr Kolobnev, brought everything back together.
Race leader Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Pozzato then fancied their chances on the technical descent – read, fast and narrow – but were never allowed too much leeway by what was left of the peloton.
Soon afterwards, Astana’s Dmitriy Fofonov slipped off the front, but Hushovd’s Cervelo boys were in no mood for him to get far, and it was then Gilbert himself who took to the front under the one-kilometre-to-go banner – a very real threat for the stage win as the others scrambled from one side of the road to the other to get onto his wheel.
Bennati, though, thundered past, sweeping the Belgian aside, with Hushovd sticking close to his wheel, before popping out of his slipstream for the stage victory.
“It certainly wasn’t a simple win,” Hushovd said afterwards, “as I’d suffered a lot on the last climb, but my team-mates did a great job of pulling on the front to keep things together. At the finish, though, I took Bennati’s wheel and won the sprint quite easily.
“So it was a hard day,” the Norwegian admitted, “but I showed that I’m getting better on the climbs, yet can still win in a sprint.”
All the main favourites finished in the front group, meaning no change in the top 10, with Gilbert retaining the overall lead.
Vuelta a Espana 2010, stage six: Caravaca de la Cruz to Murcia, 151km1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervélo 151km in 3-36-20
2. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
3. Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre-Farnese Vini
4. Allan Davis (Aus) Astana
5. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Katusha
6. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
7. Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Columbia
8. Pablo Urtasun (Spa) Euskaltel
9. Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis
10. Nicolas Roche (Ire) Ag2r-La Mondiale all same time
Overall classification after stage six
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto in 22-36-26
2. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 10sec
3. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 10sec
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas at 12sec
5. Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Columbia at 16sec
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Columbia at 29sec
7. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo at 49sec
8. Frank Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank at 50sec
9. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne at 54sec
10. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia at 55sec
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Related links
Stage five: Farrar beats Cavendish for Vuelta stage win
Stage four: Anton wins stage but Gilbert keeps red jersey
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three: Gilbert attacks to win stage and take race lead
Stage two: Hutarovich beats Cavendish to Vuelta stage win
Vuelta stage one: Cavendish leads after HTC-Columbia win team time trial
The British riders to have led one of the grand tours
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index