Herrada wins eventful Stage 6 from the break as Teuns takes red
Spain's Jesus Herrada out-kicked fellow escapee Dylan Teuns on the fourth and final climb to win Stage 6 in Ares del Maestrat as the Belgian moved into the race lead of La Vuelta.
Herrada succeeded where his brother and Cofidis teammate Jose fell short 24 hours earlier, securing a first Grand Tour stage win after proving the strongest of an 11-man breakaway in the 198.9km stage from Mora de Rubielos.
Mindful that he was riding into red with the Astana team of race leader Miguel Angel Lopez content to relinquish control, Teuns set a fast tempo on the final climb as the duo neutralised an earlier two-man move before Herrada kicked clear inside the final 200m.
Herrada, whose brother Jose finished third behind Burgos-BH pair Angel Madrazo and Jetse Bol in Stage 5, celebrated wildly as he crossed the line seven seconds clear of Teuns.
Frenchman Dorian Godon (Ag2R-La Mondiale) pipped Dutchman Robert Gesink (Jumbo-Visma) for third place before the remnants of the break arrived in dribs and drabs.
Gesink’s starring role in the break saw the Dutch veteran enter the top 10 at sixth place, 1’23” down and level on time with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), nine seconds behind teammate Primoz Roglic in fourth.
Colombia’s Uran was in sixth place, Briton Carthy 30th, Roche fifth and De la Parte 13th, as the crash took its toll.
The bad luck continued for EF Education First when Tejay van Garderen, who was part of the break, flew off the road on the descent of the penultimate climb. The American was able to continue the race but finished in last place almost 25 minutes back after overcooking a corner at speed and landing head-first in a rocky bush.
Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) retained the green jersey and Wednesday’s hero, the Spaniard Madrazo, kept hold of the polka dot jersey after his Burgos-BH team failed to make the break for the first time since Sunday’s second stage.
Stage 6: Mora de Rubielos to Ares del Maestra - as it happened
If rolling terrain and four categorised climbs made Thursday’s stage ideally suited to a breakaway, then someone did not give the peloton the memo.
It took over an hour before the day’s break finally formed, with an early four-man move snuffed out before Dutchman Wout Poels’s brief foray off the front come to nothing.
The Ineos rider, who languished in 69th place going into the stage, took maximum KoM points over the first two climbs before he was swept up by a chase group that also featured his British teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart.
But the Astana-led peloton were giving this move no leeway and it took until around 50km into the stage before a strong 11-man move finally extricated itself from the pack.
Ineos were once again present through the Spaniard De la Cruz, the best placed of the escapees on GC, 4’35” down on Lopez.
De la Cruz was joined by Herrada, Teuns, Van Garderen, Gesink, Godon, Gianluca Brambilla (Trek-Segafredo), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Bruno Armirail (Groupama-FDJ), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar Team) and Tsgabu Grmay (Mitchelton-Scott).
The move gradually stretched to over a minute but the presence of De la Cruz and the Belgian Teuns, just 12 seconds behind the Spaniard on GC, seemed to shackle the break, making its chances of success unlikely.
But then came the major flashpoint of the day, a massive pile-up which tore through the peloton with around 80km remaining. Top 10 riders Uran and Roche were forced to withdraw alongside Carthy and De la Parte in the high-speed spill, which happened before the live TV coverage had started.
Tony Martin and George Bennett (both Jumbo-Visma), Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe), James Knox (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Poels were among the raft of riders who also came down, while EF Education First’s luck got no better with the involvement of the promising Colombian youngster Sergio Higuita.
They all battled on although Martin was hampered with some nasty road-rash on his buttocks while Italian champion Formolo struggled to maintain contact with the peloton.
Benefitting from the fall-out of the crash was, of course, the break, who saw its lead stretch out beyond four minutes ahead of the third climb - putting De la Cruz in the virtual red jersey.
Ethiopia’s Grmay made the first move from the break, zipping clear at the start of the Puerto de Culla with 29km remaining. He was joined by Portugal’s Oliviera on the descent moments after Van Garderen continued EF Education First’s unfortunate elimination race by overcooking a tight bend and flying into a bush.
The leading duo had 40 seconds going onto the final 8km climb with the peloton soft-pedalling almost six minutes in arrears.
With both De la Cruz and Teuns eyeing a possible red jersey, it was the Spaniard - having earlier won the intermediate sprint to stretch his lead on the Belgian to 15 seconds - who tentatively led the chase on Grmay and Oliviera.
But Teuns and Herrada made the decisive move with 3.5km remaining to sweep past the leaders and enter the closing moments with the spoils delicately poised.
When Teuns won Stage 5 of July's Tour de France at La Planche des Belles Filles, the rider he beat, Giulio Ciccone, found consolation in taking the yellow jersey.
And so it proved with remarkable symmetry for the Belgian 27-year-old in Spain, with Herrada going two better than his brother to take the stage win while Teuns settled for the accolade of becoming the new Vuelta leader.
Runner-up once and third on two occasions in 2018, Teuns continued his close-but-no-cigar routine in Spain but with a twist: this time a trip to the podium to pick up the red jersey made up for another miss.
The 20-year-old zipped clear to take 11th place almost six minutes down on Herrada, with a first chasing group containing all the race favourites crossing the line two seconds later.
Coming up: Stage 7 - Onda to Mas de la Costa
A third successive summit finish is in store for the riders - and it’s arguably the hardest of the bunch. A flat opening third to the 183.2km stage is followed by a succession of lower-category climbs which shouldn't prove too taxing. And then there’s the brutal finale.
When last used in 2016, the Alto Mas de la Costa – although just 4.1km long – took its toll on the peloton with its average gradient of 12.3%. Switzerland's Mathias Frank emerged the strongest from the break ahead of Sky's Leopold Konig as favourites Alberto Contador, Esteban Chaves, eventual winner Nairo Quintana and a yo-yoing Chris Froome all came home together.
As the riders made the left-hand turn onto the final climb, the message "Hell starts here" was daubed across the road in paint. Things have probably not got any more heavenly since.