This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Tony Martin came close to pulling off the unbelievable on Thursday, nearly winning the sixth stage of the Vuelta a España in a solo effort that covered almost the entire 175 km. The Omega Pharma-QuickStep rider was caught with only metres to go, as Michael Mørkøv of Saxo-Tinkoff took the sprint win. Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre) and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) completed the podium, as Martin hung on for seventh place.
The stage was dominated by the world time trial champion, who apparently wanted to put in a long hard training session for his upcoming defence of that title in Florence. Martin attacked virtually as soon as the flag dropped for the start, and built up a lead of seven and a half minutes and one point. His gap fell to under one minute with 20 km to go, but even within the last kilometre it looked as if he would stay away to the end.
Ironically, it was the former world time trial champion Cancellara who led the charge which caught his rival in the closing metres. Mørkøv drew on his vast track experience to go with the Swiss rider and then exploded past him at the finish line to claim the biggest victory of his career.
There were no changes at the top of the general classification as Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) continues to lead by three seconds over Chris Horner (RadioShack), with Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) third at eight seconds.
How it unfolded
The action started right from the get-go, and instead of a breakaway group, there was a solo attacker – and one who might not have been expected. Tony Martin took off just as the neutralised zone came to an end and the world time trial champion just keep on going for the rest of the day.
After 26 kilometres, he had built up a lead of some 7:24, and Orica-GreenEdge and Belkin took to the head of the field to keep things under control, with Christian Meier particularly prominent in keeping the German’s lead pegged at around the five-minute mark for much of the afternoon.
For their part, Belkin had little interest in tracking Martin down, though, and were instead focused on the day’s first intermediate sprint at Puerto de Béjar, where the Dutch team made sure that Bauke Mollema crossed the line in third place to pick up the one-second time bonus on offer.
Eventually Argos-Shimano joined in the chase work, and slowly but surely the gap started dropping. With 75 km to go, it was down to 4:20.
The chase was slow but steady and the outcome seemingly inevitable. At the 20 km marker, the gap was exactly one minute, and the capture seemed imminent. Martin fought hard though, and when his advantage dropped to nine seconds, he turned on his speed again to double it.
Unbelievably he still had six seconds in hand as he went under the red kite with one kilometre to go, and even 500 metres out, it looked like he had a chance. But his tired legs had no chance against the strong will of the sprinters, and they gobbled him up with just 100 metres to go. A cruel finish for Martin, after a remarkable 174.9 km alone in the lead.