For as chaotic as Stage 6 of the Vuelta a España was, it certainly ended placidly. In the final 200 meters, racing up the third-category Puerto de Ares, it was just Jesús Herrada and Dylan Teuns, the only men remaining from the final breakaway, and when Herrada – pulling faces that would lose him a fortune at a poker table – finally summoned the nerve to make his final sprint, Teuns hardly even looked up. Herrada rode calmly to his first-ever Grand Tour win, while Teuns rode into the overall lead of the Vuelta.
You may ask yourself: Well, how did we get here?
The stage started with a series of climbs, almost right from the starting flag, which prompted not one but a series of breakaways. The first two involved Ineos team leader Wout Poels – perhaps aiming for stage victory, perhaps attempting a Froomean resurrection that would erase his 16-minute deficit. (Either way, it was not to be, as the race soon came back together.)
The third breakaway stuck. This one included Herrada and Teuns, as well as Tejay Van Garderen, Robert Gesink and, most crucially, David De La Cruz – the third man for Team Ineos but the best-placed, at just four-and-a-half minutes from the race lead.
De La Cruz’s vicinity to the red jersey might have ignited a chase from the overall contenders but for a huge crash midway through the stage. Cameras didn’t catch the crucial moment, but there was carnage in the overall classification. Team EF leader Rigoberto Uran? Out of the race with a broken collarbone. Second-in-command Hugh Carthy? Also out. Nicolas Roche, who wore the red jersey until yesterday? Him, too. Add to the pile CCC’s Victor de la Parte. And put a question mark on Bora leader Davide Formolo, who spent considerable time back at his team car but was eventually able to carry on, finishing 18 minutes behind.
The psychological toll of six stages of crashes might have been what took the impetus out of the chase, even despite the presence of De La Cruz – a threat to the overall lead – in the breakaway. George Bennett, who was among those hitting the deck, later told reporters that the peloton simply wants to get this opening week done with, to fast-forward to the demanding second and third weeks, where the race will ultimately be won. “We don’t really care who’s winning at the moment, as strange as it sounds,” he said. “Everyone knows what’s coming. We’ve all seen the road book.”
But while the overall contenders might not have been keen to chase down De La Cruz today, it was clear that there were some still anxious to pull on the red jersey. And there was still the stage victory up for grabs.
With around 15 kilometers to go, Tsgabu Grmay sprinted off the front of the breakaway, chased by Nelson Oliveira. Tejay Van Garderen led the breakaway in pursuit of Oliveira, but he soon became the third EF rider of the day to crash, going into a roadside shrub. He would later remount but would finish in last place, almost 25 minutes back.
Up the road, Grmay and Oliveira held a gap of about 30 seconds for several kilometers, while De La Cruz helped keep the breakaway in sight of the leaders and ahead of the (dawdling) peloton, ensuring that he would ride into the race lead.
But De La Cruz might have overlooked the fact that his companion in the breakaway, Dylan Teuns, started the day only eight seconds behind him in the overall classification, and when the Frenchman Bruno Armirail set out to chase the two leaders, Teuns latched on, along with Herrada. They caught first Armirail, then Grmay, then finally Oliveira, and quickly put the race – including De La Cruz – behind them.
Herrada didn’t take a turn in the wind until his final dash to the line (perhaps having learned from the experience of his brother, José, who was worked over by Team Burgos-BH yesterday), but by that time Teuns seemed to have calculated that riding into the overall lead was prize enough. (“I gave it all for the victory, but in the end one guy was smarter,” he told reporters, before quickly correcting himself, “or stronger”.)
De La Cruz would finish ninth, 43 seconds behind Teuns, but that’s still good enough for second place overall.
Meanwhile, the only non-road-rash-related action among the group of overall contenders was a late, fated raid by Tadej Pogacar, who set out at nearly a sprint pace with a kilometer-and-a-half to go, but who ultimately gained only two seconds on the other favorites.
So, new faces on the podium of the Vuelta a España once again. But don’t get used to them: Tomorrow’s seventh stage finishes with a first-category ascent that averages 12 percent in gradient and briefly maxes out at a gravity-defying twenty-five.