Norwegian sprint specialist Thor Hushovd won the sixth stage of the Tour of Spain on Thursday, while Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert retained the overall leader’s red jersey.
The Cervelo rider beat Italy’s Daniele Bennati and Slovenia’s Grega Bole to the line in a mass sprint at the end of the 151km ride from Caravaca de la Cruz to Murcia in southeastern Spain. Fourth was Australia’s Allan Davis.
The stage included a 2nd category climb toward the end followed by a steep downhill stretch to the finish.
Hushovd said he knew the final descent was “dangerous and technical, so I didn’t take any risks, I just stayed easy in the bunch and saved for the sprint.”
“I was motivated for this stage,” said the 32-year-old, who has twice won the green jersey as best sprinter in the Tour de France. “I knew this climb and that maybe the best sprinters would get dropped, so I hung on and then in the end the Cervelo Test team did a great job for me so I’m really, really pleased for myself and for the whole team.”
His Cervelo teammate, Spain’s Carlos Sastre, also hailed the team effort that led to the first stage win for the Swiss outfit in this year’s event.
He said “very few sprinters” were able to stay keep up during the final climb.
“That meant our team ... was able to control the head of the race so Hushovd could fight for victory in the sprint,” said the 2008 Tour de France winner, who finished with the main group.
The stage was marked by an early breakaway by three riders — Germany’s Markus Eichler, France’s Freddy Bichot and Spain’s Juan Javier Estrada Ruiz.
They built up a lead of more than nine minutes but they were caught on the final hill climb with about 18km to go.
Gilbert, who rides for the Omega Pharma team, finished with the same time as Hushovd and retains his lead in the overall classification, which he first claimed from Britain’s Mark Cavendish after winning Monday’s third stage.
He is 10 seconds ahead of two Spaniards, Igor Anton and Joaquin Rodriguez.
Yesterday’s seventh stage was to take the riders 187.1km from Murcia to Orihuela, and included just one third category climb.
The 21-stage Tour of Spain, which began last Saturday with a team time trial through the streets of Seville, wraps up in Madrid on Sept. 19.