After all the talk of the finishing hill in Barcelona being too much for the sprinters, Thor Hushovd powered to victory at the end of the sixth stage of the Tour de France.
Britain’s David Millar was denied victory after he was caught by the bunch as he approached the red kite denoting there was one kilometre to go.
The sprint opened up, with Hushovd (Cérvelo) getting the better of Spaniard Oscar Freire. Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) was up there too, finishing 16th, scoring 10 points to cling on to his green jersey. Cavendish leads Hushovd by 106 points to 105, with Gerald Ciolek in third on 66 points.
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) defended the yellow jersey, finishing 10th on the stage. Lance Armstrong (Astana), who trails Cancellara by fractions of a second, was 27th. The anticipated attack to gain the second he needed to take the yellow jersey did not materialise. Alberto Contador, his team-mate and biggest rival, was a few places ahead of him,
Bradley Wiggins (Garmin) was 24th, also in the front group of 43 who finished in the same time, so remains sixth overall going into the first Pyrenean stage on Friday.
Millar, whose brave bid was denied at the death, lost one minute 21 seconds in the final kilometre and finished 96th to slip to 20th overall.
The Garmin rider, who knew the roads well as he and his team are based for much of the year in the start town, Girona, was lively from the off. After a failed attack, he finally got clear after around 50 kilometres and was joined by two Frenchmen, Stéphane Augé (Cofidis) and Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), shortly afterwards.
The trio worked well together as the clouds opened and the first rain fell on the Tour after a stiflingly hot opening week.
For a long time the gap was around two-and-a-half minutes, so it was a surprise that only one rider, Euskaltel’s Amets Txurruka, considered it worthwhile bridging across to the leading trio.
With about 28 kilometres to go Millar attacked. Txurruka went in pursuit. Behind him, Cofidis’s Remi Pauriol attacked from the bunch and fought his way up to Txurruka.
Astana had been holding the gap to the leaders at around 1-20 until the chase hotted up as they approached Barcelona. The roads were technical, with roundabouts and bends giving Millar a slight advantage over the big bunch.
There were a couple of crashes in the peloton, one claiming Tom Boonen, who trailed in after the bunch. The combination of corners on city streets covered in diesel and made slippery by rain made it a nervous finale.
Millar’s lead tumbled in the final 10 kilometres. He put his head down and time trialled towards the line, but the final hill was too much.
At the Dauphiné Libéré last month Millar was caught in the final 100 metres after trying a late escape. Last year in the Giro d’Italia, he was part of an escape that was set to decide the finish when his chain snapped. This time he spent much of the day at the head of the race and was denied at the last. But he was philosophical, saying he needed the finish to be more technical for the escape to succeed. “It was a beautiful escape. It’s been a good day,” he said.
Rabobank’s Giro d’Italia champion Denis Menchov lost another 1-02, meaning his Tour chances are dead and buried.
Tomorrow (Friday) the race heads from Barcelona to Andorra, rising steadily uphill all the way until the final climb at Arcalis, the first proper mountain of the Tour.
All eyes will be on Armstrong and Contador and the next phase in the fascinating battle of wills in the Astana team.
Stage six: Girona – Barcelona
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cérvelo in 4-21-33
2. Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank
3. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
4. Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Milram
5. Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
6. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Katusha
7. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
8. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R
9. Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
10. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank
16. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC
23. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
24. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream
27. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana all same time
96. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-21
147. Charly Wegelius (GB) Silence-Lotto at 6-55
Overall classification after stage six
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank in 19-29-22
2. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana same time
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana at 19sec
4. Andreas Kloden (Ger) Astana at 23sec
5. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 31sec
6. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 38sec
7. Tony Martin (Ger) Columbia-HTC at 52sec
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Slipstream 1-16
9. Gustav Larsson (Swe) Saxo Bank at 1-22
10. Maxime Montfort (Bel) Columbia-HTC at 1-29
20. David Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream at 2-28
38. Mark Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC at 3-33
161. Charly Wegelius (GB) Silence-Lotto at 15-04
David Millar was cruelly denied stage victory after a mammoth solo effort
Thor Hushovd wins the stage, and comes within one point of Mark Cavendish in the green jersey competition
Race leader Fabian Cancellara still in yellow; not sure what Saxo Bank team boss Bjarne Riis is looking at
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Stage three: Cavendish wins second stage as Armstrong distances Contador
Stage two: Cavendish takes first sprint
Stage one: Cancellara wins opening time trial
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