Britain's David Millar came within a whisker of claiming his first Tour stage win in six years yesterday after the Garmin-Slipstream rider made a courageous day-long break which only collapsed within sight of the finish.
On the curving final climb to Montjuic in the heart of Barcelona, a glance back confirmed to Millar that the bunch that had been snapping at his heels for 25 kilometres had finally hunted him down.
"I raced more with my heart than my head," Millar, who finally came 96th on the stage, said afterwards. "But it was a special day for my team."
The British veteran pointed out that he had been extra motivated because his squad are based in Gerona, where the race started yesterday morning. "About 20 of us live there, so we had to try to get somebody in a break. It ended up being me."
After the race had wound down to the Mediterranean, running past giant caravan sites and alongside rivers swollen by flash floods as it did so, Millar edged ahead with two Frenchmen Sylvain Chavanel and Stéphane Augé.
Joined later by the Basque Amets Txurruka, the quartet's combined effort looked increasingly ragged as Barcelona approached – and realising the break was all but doomed, Millar began a solo bid for glory.
Egged on by massive crowds and seemingly oblivious to the rain which teemed down all afternoon, for kilometre after kilometre on Barcelona's broad boulevards Millar's lead stayed steady at just over a minute.
He was partly helped by two major crashes that ripped through the chasing bunch as riders skidded on the waterlogged streets.
But as Montjuic loomed closer and closer, the Scot's shoulders started to sag, a sure sign that he was running out of energy, and the final short, steep climb proved to be the final straw.
"It might have been different if there had been a few more corners," Millar observed. "But when we started racing along avenues 20 metres wide and where the bunch could see me all the time, I knew it was going to be impossible."
The final uphill dash was won by Thor Hushovd, a burly Norwegian who has now become the first challenger to Briton Mark Cavendish's lead in the points classification.
On a stage where the uphill gradient put a pure sprinter like the Manxman at a disadvantage, Cavendish scraped home for 16th – a good enough placing to hold off Hushovd by one point and remain in green for another day.
Tour de France: Stage 6 results
Result and standings after Stage 6 (Gerona-Barcelona 181.5km)
1. T Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo 4hr 21 min 33 sec;
2. O Freire (Sp) Rabobank (same time); 3. J J Rojas (Sp) Caisse d'Epargne; 4. G Ciolek (Ger) Milram; 5. F Pellizotti (It) Liquigas; 6. F Pozzato (It) Katusha; 7. A Ballan (It) Lampre; 8. R Nocentini (It) AGR; 9. C Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto; 10. F Cancellara (Swit) Saxo Bank. Selected: 16. M Cavendish (GB) Columbia-HTC; 23. A Contador (Sp) Astana; 24. B Wiggins (GB) Garmin-Slipstream; 27. L Armstrong (US) Astana.
1. Cancellara 19hr 29min 22sec; 2. Armstrong same time; 3. Contador +19sec; 4. A Klöden (Ger) Astana +23sec; 5. L Leipheimer (US) Astana +31sec; 6. Wiggins +38sec; Selected: 20. D Millar (GB) Garmin-Slipstream +2:28sec.
1. Cavendish 106pts
2. Hushovd 105pts
3. Ciolek 66ptsReuse content