Stage 6 of the Volta a Catalunya towards Molins de Rei, on Saturday, left very little rest to the riders, due to a very long fight for the breakaway and an attack from Remco Evenepoel in the final. Only sixty men or so were left in the bunch as the finish approached, and Bruno Armirail, after having perfectly supported Lenny Martinez until then, made an attack with just two kilometres to go. The French time trial champion stayed away for a few moments but was eventually caught less than 500 metres from the line. Kaden Groves then took victory in a sprint. Lenny Martinez remains in twelfth place overall going into Sunday’s final stage on the hill of Montjuic.
“Lenny learned a lot about positioning”, Bruno Armirail
Although being shortened to 174 kilometres and having its last climb removed, the penultimate stage of the Volta a Catalunya was still set to host a great fight. With a hilly terrain to tackle and just a few sprinters’ teams at the start, the chances of the breakaway were high. Therefore, almost half the bunch wanted to enter it, and the attacks did not stop for almost two hours. “Every year we have a crazy stage in Catalonia, and this year, it was today”, smiled Jussi Veikkanen. “It was very fast, on small roads, slightly uphill, some descents and with a few dangers. We also did not know if the sprinters were going to get over the last climb or not. We wanted Lorenzo to slip in the front, without trying too hard, if a group of more than ten riders went. He was part of a chasing group but was then caught by the peloton. Eventually, a group of six broke away after more than eighty kilometres of fighting, but they never got more than a minute and fifteen seconds”. Within the bunch, the sprinters’ teams took no risks at all. Therefore, the break only had a 30-second lead at the bottom of the final climb, the Alt de la Creu d ‘Aragall (5km at 5.8%), thirty-five kilometres from the finish.
A whole new race started, just as intense. Marc Soler made the first attack, the peloton lost many riders, and approaching the summit, Remco Evenepoel also went on the offensive. Nobody could keep up with the Belgian, except the leader Primoz Roglic. “Lenny and Bruno had a decent position coming into the downhill, which we knew was very technical”. “I tried to place Lenny well on the climb, and he was almost in front of the peloton when Evenepoel attacked”, said Bruno. “We couldn’t be in a better position. On the downhill, he lost 2-3 positions and found himself in a small split. I waited for him to bring him back in front, but it was nothing serious. Then, in the final, I told him not to stress, not to panic, because there was a headwind. I tried to protect him as much as possible. Anyway, I think he learned a lot about positioning this week.” When the terrain became flat again going to the finish, the two Groupama-FDJ riders were still up there among a fifty-rider pack. In the lead, Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic sat up as the latter did not wish to collaborate, and a reduced peloton sprint was therefore looming.
“It was worth trying”, Jussi Veikkanen
Bruno Armirail, however, had another idea in mind. “I told Lenny: stay with me, I’ll protect you up to three kilometres, and if I have the opportunity to attack between three and one kilometre to go, I will”, said the Frenchman. And so, I tried. Anyway, we were not going to win in the sprint. I had to try something, and I will try again when the opportunity arises. It’s just a pity because there were still about fifty riders while we were only twenty-five after the downhill. It would have been better for me, but that’s the way it is”. “We knew that Jumbo-Visma did not necessarily want to come for the win, so Bruno went for it. Unfortunately, there were still 2-3 sprinters, and he couldn’t pull it off, but it was worth trying. It was an opportunity today, and it’s always better to be in the mix”. The French time trial champion attacked with two kilometres to go, took a small fifty-meter lead, but the peloton never gave up and eventually caught him in the home stretch, at just 400 metres. In the sprint, Kaden Groves took his second win of the week while Lenny Martinez finished safely in the peloton, retaining his twelfth place overall before the final stage around Barcelona on Sunday. “The Montjuic stage has been crazy for the past two years, and I think it will be the case this year too, but it also comes down a lot on positioning”, warned Jussi. “We will therefore need our domestiques until the final circuit, and then the legs will decide in the last 2-3 laps”.