SAN JAVIER, Spain – One day after finishing last, Nacer Bouhanni rebounded in fine fashion by sprinting to win the sixth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Thursday.
FDJ rider Rudy Molard kept the lead for a second straight day after finishing shortly behind fellow Frenchman Bouhanni.
Bouhanni claimed the win for his Cofidis team in just under four hours by edging the closest of five rivals by a wheel length in the mostly flat 96.7-mile ride from Huercal-Overa to San Javier along the dry and rocky southeastern coast.
“I was very motivated to turn this situation around,” Bouhanni said. “I really wanted to get another important win.”
Bouhanni also won two stages in the 2014 edition of the Vuelta.
But after not being selected to ride in the Tour de France in July, Bouhanni was having a rough start to this year’s Vuelta.
Bouhanni finished Stage 5 in last place, 25 minutes behind the stage winner. He was also handed a 30-second penalty that was originally reported by Spanish media as resulting from a heated argument with his sports director. Cofidis denied that there had been a dispute and attributed the penalty to the rider taking food in a prohibited area.
Bouhanni proved a day later why he is considered one of cycling’s top sprinters by charging to the win ahead of Danny Van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo), followed by Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) in third.
Durango’s Sepp Kuss, who finished 17th Wednesday after a top-25 finish Tuesday, finished Thursday’s stage in 109th. He was 3:05 behind Bouhanni. Through six of 21 stages, the 23-year-old Team LottoNL-Jumbo rider is in 59th in the general classification standings, 14:48 behind Molard’s lead.
Thursday’s stage was uneventful until a small crash rounding a corner in a town crossing with 14 miles remaining as the peloton entered a section subject to crosswinds.
The cyclists broke apart and a pack of trailers including Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), who both started the day in the top 12 spots, lost 1 minute, 44 seconds.
Molard maintained his 41-second lead over Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
Among the other race favorites, Simon Yates (Michelton-Scott) remained fourth at 51 seconds behind Molard, and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was fifth, 53 seconds back. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was eighth, trailing Molard by 1:14.
Richie Porte (BMC) got out on an early breakaway with Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Jorge Cubero (Burgos-BH). The peloton caught Porte and Mate with 32K left. Cubero lasted for three more kilometers.
The seventh stage remains in the southeastern region of Murcia on Friday for a relatively flat 115.3-mile from Puerto Lumbreras to Pozo Alcon.
The three-week Grand Tour will finish Sept. 16 in Madrid.
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.