Stage 6 of La Vuelta 2021 casts a friendly profile, with what looks like a long downhill followed by a lengthy flat section within its 160km route. A close look at the final kilometres, though, reveals a significant sting in the tail.
Cullera this year returns to La Vuelta to host a stage finish for only the second time — it staged the conclusion to stage 2 in 1980, which was won by Sean Kelly. The day will be defined by the Alto de la Montaña de Cullera — a 2km ascent, which is better described as a wall due to its absurd gradients.
Stage 6 profile
After the stage begins in Requena, the race heads east towards the Balearic Sea. The breakaway will form in the first 100 kilometres on undulating terrain, but they have little chance of holding off the peloton.
After 99 kilometres, the race will enter Valencia, which is where the intermediate sprint is found. Just over 60 kilometres remain from this point, with the race now travelling south alongside the coast.
The road remains flat in its entirety until 2.2km remain. After turning left, the road shoots uphill instantly. The Alto de la Montaña de Cullera averages 9.4% over 1.9km. Percentages surpass 10% in places, and it remains that way until the final 100 metres, where the road finally begins to flatten slightly.
The road is narrow too, so the fight for position beforehand will be manic. Those at the front of the race entering the climb have a substantial advantage over the riders further back. The riders won’t be able to enjoy the stunning view of Cullera presented to them as they race to the top.
Primoz Roglic lost the red jersey to Rein Taaramäe on stage 3 (Image credit: Luis Angel Gomez / ASO)
The Alto de la Montaña was used at the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana recently — Tadej Pogačar won on the climb in 2020 ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Dylan Teuns. This demonstrates just how difficult the ascent is, even though it's short-lived. With this in mind, we can assume that the GC favourites will come to the fore.
Considering the characteristics of the Alto de la Montaña, Primož Roglič begins as the heavy favourite. The Slovenian has demonstrated his ability on short, steep climbs before, notably at La Flèche Wallonne earlier this season when he came agonisingly close to defeating the seemingly unbeatatable Julian Alaphilippe. Roglič starts the stage just 5 seconds behind red jersey holder Kenny Elissonde — if Roglic does win the stage, Elissonde must finish second to have a chance of retaining the maillot rojo.
Second to Pogačar at the Volta Comunitat Valenciana last year was Alejandro Valverde. The climb suits the Spaniard’s qualities — he’s a great puncher with a rapid sprint finish. He demonstrated brilliant legs on Picón Blanco a couple of days ago to finish with the primary GC favourites, too. Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López also showed strength for Movistar on the first uphill test, but this one looks to be for Valverde.
Olympic champion Richard Carapaz showed signs of weakness on Picón Blanco, suggesting the Ineos Grenadiers will now turn their focus to Adam Yates and Egan Bernal. Both have demonstrated their capability on short climbs before — will they be aggressive or follow the wheels?
Bahrain-Victorious took charge on Picón Blanco, but their GC leader Mikel Landa decided to act with caution. After the stage, Landa stated, “I hadn’t felt confident about today’s stage but I’ve been able to be up there with the best.” We can expect Landa to grow into the Vuelta after crashing out of the Giro d’Italia earlier this season. If Landa is positioned well, perhaps Bahrain will allow another of their riders to attack. Their best options are Wout Poels, Gino Mäder or Jack Haig, who was fifth at the Volta Comunitat Valenciana last year.
Other GC riders to look out for include Giulio Ciccone, Felix Großschartner and Alex Vlasov. Outside of the general classification riders, keep an eye on Rudy Molard, Tom Pidcock and Mauri Vansevenant.
Although Adam Yates and Alejandro Valverde could pose a challenge, we can’t see past Primož Roglič here. If the breakaway is caught and the stage win is up for grabs, Roglic won’t hesitate to seize the 10 bonus seconds that lie at the finish line. Primož Roglič is our pick to win stage 6 of the Vuelta a España and hold the red jersey at the end of the stage too.
Cover image: Luis Angel Gomez / ASO