On a bittersweet day for EF Education-Nippo on La Vuelta, Danish powerhouse Magnus Cort held on for a brilliant win on the Alto de la Montana de Cullera while his teammate Hugh Carthy lost the best part of three minutes on a day to forget for the British rider who finished third last year.
A rampant Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) just came up short on a second stage win but put time into all his rivals for red after another statement of intent following his opening day time trial triumph at Burgos. The overnight leader, Kenny Elissonde of Trek-Segafredo, finished well back to concede the maillot rojo that Roglic wore for the first two days of the race.
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Roglic finished ahead of Italy’s Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-PremierTech) and Spain’s Enric Mas (Movistar). Australia’s versatile sprinter Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) led the chase on the remnants of the breakaway on the final climb but faded to sixth place ahead of Colombia’s Egan Bernal of Ineos Grenadiers.
With overnight leader Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) conceding four and a half minutes on the climb, Roglic returns to the race summit with a 25-second advantage on Enric Mas. Spain’s Mas tops a trident of Movistar riders ahead of Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez (+36) and Spanish veteran (+41), with the reigning Giro d’Italia champion Bernal completing the new-look top five.
Despite a flexing of GC muscle from defending champion Roglic, the time gaps on the punchy 1.9km climb were, for the most part, not huge – although Spain’s Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) both conceded 27 seconds, while Carthy eventually finished 2:50 in arrears after yo-yoing off the back of the peloton in the frantic rush to the foot of the climb.

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A tough finishing circuit around the coastal town of Cullera played out beside the Mediterranean coast and on some blustery arable planes, where the peloton twice split into echelons following pressure from Ineos Grenadiers and Movistar.
Cort was part of a five-man breakaway which still held 30 seconds going onto the foot of the final climb as Ineos’s Ecuadorian duo of Jhonatan Narvaez and Carapaz, the Olympic road race champion, set an infernal tempo onto the ascent in a bid to pave the way for their man in the white jersey, Bernal.
But Bernal did not have enough gas in the tank to finish the job off with Movistar’s trident and that man Matthews coming to the fore as escapees Joan Bou (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Ryan Gibbons (UAE Team Emirates), Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH) and, finally, Bert-Jan Lindeman (Israel Start-Up Nation) were picked off one by one.
Matthews clearly felt confident ahead of the climb with his BikeExchange team crowding to the front of the peloton on the fast approach to the city of Valencia with 80km remaining after the breakaway’s advantage had crept over the seven-minute mark.
The day’s break had only formed around 30km earlier following numerous thwarted attempts by riders to get away – including an early solo move from the Dutchman Bol, who eventually forced himself into the quintet which were given some leeway by the pack.
BikeExchange’s long stint on the front was curtailed with 50km remaining when their Kazakh rider Andrey Zeits hit the deck after a shoulder barge by Sacha Modolo of Alpecin-Fenix, the Italian rider trying to avoid running off the road following a roundabout.

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This incident changed the dynamic of the chase as the breakaway maintained a reduced three-minute lead until Ineos, Movistar and Jumbo-Visma combined to stretch out the peloton on the first lap of a technical closing loop ahead of the climb.
Race leader Elissonde was among the raft of riders caught out on the first lap but the Frenchman – along with Vlasov – was able to chase back on. After the pack passed through Cullera for the first time, the elastic snapped for Carthy with 15km remaining. The British rider – who memorably won on the Alto de Angliru last year – was eventually paced back into the fold by three EF Education-Nippo teammates. But at a cost.
As teammate Cort showcased his strength on the 9.4 per cent average gradient of the twisting final climb – en route to a fourth career win in La Vuelta – Carthy went backwards once Ineos lit the torch paper in the battle for red; a battle from which Roglic nevertheless emerged unscathed and victorious.

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But with just 58 seconds separating Roglic’s red jersey and seventh place Giulio Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo, the scene is set for an absorbing first day in the high mountains on Friday. The 152km Stage 7 from Gandia features no fewer than six categorised climbs including the final Cat.1 ascent of the Balcon de Alicante.
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