Valverde takes Vuelta lead after stage win

Ireland’s Dan Martin moves up to 17th overall after coming home in 18th place on day six

Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde of Movistar team celebrates as he wins the sixth stage of the Vuelta a Espana. Photograph: Javier Lizon / EPA

Alejandro Valverde sprinted away from an exhausted peloton to win the sixth stage and take the overall lead in the Vuelta a España on Thursdau, with Chris Froome and Alberto Contador following the Spaniard across the line.

Ireland's Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp moved up to 17th overall with an 18th-placed finish today but he is now one minute and 37 seconds behind Valverde's lead.

The Dutchman Pim Ligthart and Luís Mas Bonet of Spain staged a breakaway for the vast majority of the 167.1km stage from the Mediterranean coast into the mountains, but they were caught with the finish almost in sight.

The peloton was whittled down to about a dozen riders on the final category-one climb to La Zubia as Valverde and Nairo Quintana, both of Movistar, took control at the front.


Colombia's Quintana finished fifth behind the two former Tour de France champions – Great Britain's Froome (Team Sky), in second, and the Spaniard Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), in third.

Valverde has a 15-second lead over Quintana in the overall standings, with Contador in third, 18 seconds back, and Froome 22 adrift in fourth.

Ligthart, who rides for Lotto Belisol, played a major role in a break for the second day running, taking off with Mas Bonet of Seguros.

They built up a lead of nearly 10 minutes, the biggest of the race so far, and took it up to 14 minutes shortly before leaving the coast near Málaga towards the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Mas Bonet crested the category two Alto de Zafarraya ahead of Ligthart and the two kept the gap at around 10 minutes as the stage entered its fourth hour.

The peloton began to reel them in 50km from the finish in La Zubia, near Granada, with Katusha and Garmin-Sharp heading the chasing pack, but Ligthart and Mas Bonet were still four-and-a-half minutes ahead with 20km to go.

Orica GreenEdge had said they would not try to defend Michael Matthews’s overall lead, but the Australian was at the front of the peloton as it entered the last 15km.

The two riders’ lead slipped under one minute as they approached the category one Cumbres Verdes ascent to the finish and Mas Bonet was caught.

Ligthart forged on alone before being joined by Christophe Le Mével, but both were swallowed up with 3km to go as Matthews and Peter Sagan were dropped from a peloton reduced to around 30 riders.

Quintana and Valverde hit the front in the final kilometre at the head of a small group including Froome and Contador, and Valverde surged again in the last 300 metres to win.