This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) charged up the final few hundred meters of the closing climb of the Vuelta a Espana's sixth stage, to claim the win in Jaca. He easily passed and beat Chris Froome (Sky), who had opened the closing sprint. Alejandro Valverde of Movistar was third, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) fourth, 18 seconds down, as the four top riders clung together until the end.
Rodriguez easily defended his overall lead, taking the winner's bonus seconds as well as taking time on all three of this rivals.
As on the third stage, the four top contenders had no one to fear but each other. By the time the race hit the last kilometre, there was no question as to who the top four finishers on the day would be - the only question was the order.
Saxo Bank did much of the lead work and many thought that Contador was planning something at the end. But when Froome made the decisive move at the 500m marker, the Spaniard was unable to react.
A Dutch-Belgian break group
It only took 10km for the day's group to get started, and when it was formed, it was all Benelux. The three Dutchmen and two Belgians were Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp), Joost van Leijen (Lotto Belisol), Peter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge), Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil) and Kristoff Vandewalle (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
The group might have wished De Gendt was not included. He finished third in this year's Giro d'Italia, and Katusha, looking to protect Rodriguez' overall lead, was not willing to let the Belgian get too far away. The gap never reached the four-minute mark on the early part of the rolling course.
It actually went all the way up to 4:15 at one point as the stage went along, but the stage was mostly marked by a lack of action.
The gap shrank as the two closing climbs grew closer, and the Belgian-Dutch group took less than three minutes into the final 30 kilometers. Van Leijen was the first to fall back on the first climb, unable to keep up.
A number of teams helped lead the charge up the Puerto de Oroel, the first of the day's climbs. Only a category three, it was 12km long with an average 2.8% gradient. But the leading teams held the pace high enough that riders started dropping off the back on this hot day, with temperatures climbing up over 37°C.
Saxo Bank and Sky shared the lead work. With 22km to go, the gap was already hovering around the one-minute mark. Only a few kilometers later, De Gendt was alone in the lead, speeding his way along with a 48-second lead over the Saxo Bank-led field.
The Belgian took the first mountain ranking of the day, as the field caught his former escape companions. He flew down the climb as quickly as he could, but Saxo Bank was relentless and cut the gap on the way down. At the bottom, with 10km to go, he had only 32 seconds.
The writing was on the wall for the Vacansoleil rider, as the official autos started passing him, and he had only 15 seconds at the 9km marker.
With 3km to go, De Gendt had only a few seconds in hand, as the favourites lined up behind him and started the fight for placement. The final climb had now started and De Gendt was finally caught at the base of the climb.
Sky then moved to the front, leading the charge up to the finish line. But Rodriguez, Valverde and Contador were right up there with them.
The British team led the way up the many closing switchbacks, still closely followed by Froome's rivals. Rigoberto Uran led the field at the 500m mark and then his teammate Froome took off, followed directly by only Rodriguez.
Valverde gave chase, but couldn't catch the two leaders, while Contador looked apparently unable to turn on his speed.
Rodriguez easily charged ahead of his British rival on the closing sprint, outdistancing him without problem. He took the win and gained five seconds, as well as the bonus seconds. Valverde was third at 10 seconds, with Contador only fourth, a whole 18 seconds down.