• Nacer Bouhanni takes the win. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Nacer Bouhanni's rollercoaster 24 hours culminated in a surprising and somewhat redemptive victory on Stage 6 of the Vuelta a España.
Cycling Central

31 Aug 2018 - 2:35 AM  UPDATED 31 Aug 2018 - 9:13 AM

The short, flat 155.7km stage from Huércal-Overa to San Javier was expected to go according to plan for the fast men with a day-long break followed by the catch and sprint but there were some surprises along the way.

The stage win went to perennial bad boy Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) ahead of Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) in the expected bunch sprint. It's the first WorldTour victory for Cofidis since Bouhanni won Stage 4 of the 2017 Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, the bulk of the team's victories coming at races at the lower UCI levels. 

“I’m delighted to win," Bouhanni said. "It was very hard, the pace was really high in the finale. Kenneth (Van Bielsen) and Loïc (Chetout) have always kept me in a perfect position.

"I had a very serious accident last year at the Tour of Yorkshire. It might have been downplayed but I could have lost my life and I suffered with vision problem for a long time. I was wondering when it would come back.

"I’ve had a very difficult season. I was affected (by public criticism from the management). I felt humiliated but I figured I had to go beyond that. I was very disappointed to not participate in the Tour, I was in great shape.

"I’m not going to hide it, I’ve had touches with other teams but Thierry Vittu (the team president) called me before La Vuelta to tell me I had his full support. I’m very happy to win for Cofidis.”

"I really wanted to win today after the fake news that circulated about me yesterday." 

Fake News

The 'fake news' Bouhanni refers to are reports stating he received a time penalty after Stage 5 for lashing out at his Cofidis team car and director Jean Luc Jonrond. Bouhanni and Jean Luc Jonrond vehemently denied the claims, insisting the time penalty was for the same infringement as race leader Rudy Molard i.e. receiving an irregular feed/drink in the final kilometres of Stage 5. 

"There has never been a fight between our leader and Jean Luc Jonrond," the Cofidis statement reads. "Nacer was penalised for an irregular supply at the end of the stage yesterday. Cofidis also wants to deny...conflicts between Bouhanni and his sporting direction - they are totally false. Nacer has all our confidence and we rely on him.

How Stage 6 unfolded - surprises and echelons baby!

The very top of the general classification did not change, with Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) staying out of trouble to hold his place but there were two significant casualties. 

The first surprise was the presence of Australian Richie Porte (BMC) in the three-rider break along with mountains classification leader Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Jorge Cubero (Burgos-BH).

Porte was the first rider to attack and with a 41-minute deficit to the overall leader Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) was allowed the space to do something seldom seen by a rider of his class.

It was weird and questions were asked but ultimately it was just a training effort for Porte, who is looking ahead to the UCI Road World Championships in late September.

The stage was all business for Mate, taking the maximum points at the first KOM on the Alto de Garrobillo and again at Alto Del Cedacerol to pad out his classification lead.

Cubero was in it for the TV time, intermediate sprint at Cartagena and the jury prize as the most combative rider when he separated himself from Porte and Mate in a late show of resistance to the inevitable.

For the majority of the stage, the peloton held the break at around two minutes but Porte, Mate and finally Cubero were swept up with less than 30km to go.

The second surprise was a crash caused by in-town street furniture which claimed Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Sodual), Mike Teunissen (Sunweb) and Thomas Leezer (LottoNL-Jumbo), splitting the peloton.

The timing of the split happened just as the peloton hit the crosswinds which blew the field to bits, catching out general classification contenders, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb).

With the peloton split in two, Sunweb and Groupama-FDJ combined forces to minimise the damage while the majority of the leading contenders drove hard in the front - but they later finished one minute and 45 seconds down on Bouhanni. 

The third Stage 6 surprise was the disintegration of Quick-Step Floors in the finale and Bouhanni's redemptive victory. 

Spain's grand tour continues with Stage 7's 185km from Puerto Lumbreras to Pozo Alcón. Vuelta organisers are calling it flat but there's two cat 3 kickers, including the 4.5km climb, 5.4 per cent Alto de Ceal that comes around 20kms from the finish. This and the uphill finish makes it (probably) one for the puncheurs or the breakaway.