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Vuelta Stage 6: Liquigas School the Field... Almost

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Peter Sagan led home a train of Liquigas riders to win today's sixth stage of the Vuelta a España in a performance that harkened back to the Italian squad's dominance of last year's grand tour scene. Except this time, nobody seemed all that happy about it.

Today's long, hot, mostly flat/rolling stage to Cordoba was the latest "sprint" stage to toss in a climb at the end which eliminated all the sprinters. This time the Alto del Catorce Por Ciento, peaking at some 15km from the finish, scattered the field with gradients up to 12%, and in the chaos of the multiple summits and long descent a five rider escape including four Liquigas riders burst from the remnants of the field, including many of the top contenders eager not to lose any time. Among the escapees were last year's Vuelta champion Vincenzo Nibali and Sagan, their ace stage winner. The only interloper was stage 2 winner Pablo Lastras, so the trick for Liqui was to win the stage and maximize Nibali's time bonus. Stage winners get a 20" deduction' 12" and 8" for second and third. Not so easy a trick, as it turns out.

Nibali drove the escape home in the last few km, but didn't have much left in the sprint, which isn't his game anyway. Sagan won the stage from Lastras, which is preferable to letting Lastras have it, but Valerio Agnoli took third just ahead of Nibali, a pointless blunder. Even if Liquigas didn't have a plan for blocking Lastras and getting Nibali the stage, Agnoli should have at least hit his brakes to let his captain have the time. Had Nibali won, he'd be in the overall lead... still, the leaders gained 17+ seconds on the remaining GC threats, so not all was lost.

SebWatch: A daily check-in on Sebastian Lang's quest to finish all three 2011 Grand Tours. [No report yet. He's probably in the Gruppetto though.] Our gladiator came in 109th today, comfortably ahead of the cabezita at 7.58. He now lies 97th on GC and is looking like a guy who plans to ride into Madrid. Fifteen stages to go...

Stage:

  1. Peter Sagan, Liquigas
  2. Pablo Lastras, Movistar, s.t.
  3. Valerio Agnoli, Liquigas, s.t.
  4. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas, s.t.
  5. Eros Capecchi, Liquigas, at 0.03

GC:

  1. Sylvain Chavanel, Quick Step
  2. Daniel Moreno, Katusha, at 0.15
  3. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas, at 0.16