When race leader Tadej Pogacar made his move on the steep slopes of the final climb of Tirreno-Adriatico Stage 6 nobody had a hope of going with him.
Nothing short of a brutal performance delivered the 23 year-old to his sixth win of the season by more than a minute, and rendered the overall race victory all but a certainty. Jonas Vingegaard and Mikel Landa were the best of the rest: second and third place respectively elevated them to the same positions in the general classification.
The Queen stage might have had GC day scrawled all over it ahead of the start, but that didn't mean there wasn’t plenty to play for elsewhere in proceedings. With 215km between Apecchio and the finish Carpegna, there was also plenty of road to race on before we reached the point where the overall contenders would take an interest.
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Unlike in Paris-Nice, where breaks form at the drop of a chapeau, in Tirreno, thanks in no small part to almost constant headwinds, they’ve been much more of a battle.
It took until 20km for four riders, Benoit Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën Team), Marco Haller (BORA – Hansgrohe), Davide Bais (EOLO-Kometa), Alexander Konychev (Team BikeExchange – Jayco) to clip themselves away from the rest. With so much interest from others - in the stage and in the mountains competition - the quartet’s lead was unable to fully establish itself, never getting more than a minute in front. Within less than a dozen kilometres the break was back within visual range of the peloton, presenting incentive and opportunity, and inviting several riders from the bunch to make the jump. A larger group, made up of original escapees and newbies, among them Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep Alpha Vinyl) and incumbent maglia verdi Quinn Simmons (Trek Segafredo), quickly consolidated. The peloton finally stopped pulling.
Simmons, leading the mountains competition by five points from Bais, had a bit of a battle on his hands, but it was one he was going to win. The American took the maximum five points from the first categorised climb at Mombaroccio, increasing his advantage by two from the Italian rider.
Back in the bunch the race leader’s team were in complete control, but it was not until the race was in its final third, with the break’s lead around four minutes, that anyone decided enough was enough. Twenty kilometres was enough to take the gap down by a minute, and reduce the number of riders out in front to five - Alex Aranburu and Luis Mas (Movistar Team), Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team), Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo), Cosnefroy (AG2R Citroën Team.)
While his colleagues might have been looking further up the road, Simmons’ finish line was always going to be the first of two summits of the 6km long, snow-lined Monte Carpegna, famously Marco Pantani’s favourite training ground. As well as the quintet continued to work, with two laps of the finishing circuit to complete and plenty of teams riding in the bunch, their lead was tumbling.
On the punishing slope and broken surface of the narrow climb, Cosnefroy was the first to lose contact with the group. Not long later they said goodbye to Luis Mas, leaving three.
With 3km to the top of the climb and their lead over the peloton down to one minute, Simmons was looking, said Robbie McEwan, rock solid.”
Which was more than could be said of Remco Evenepoel, who was barely hanging on to the back of the bunch, before inevitably breaking off from it entirely. One injection of impetus from Simmons saw off Alaphilippe. Another dispatched Aranburu, took him to the top where he secured the jersey, and his day was effectively done.
The twisty, narrow, technical descent caused trouble for a few riders, including Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) who just about managed to save it on one corner by sticking a leg out as he approached the apex. Simmons was taking it far easier than those behind, rejoining their ranks as he reached the valley floor, before stopping to slip on some toe covers.
With no escapees left, and the peloton a shadow of its former self, the race seemed destined to explode on the second ascent.
While Landa put the race under pressure, it was race leader Pogacar who picked the when, where and how of the pyrotechnics. If Vingegaard, Mas, Landa and Porte had any doubts who was the senior man before, they were soon left with none.
16km from the finish, 4km from the top of the climb, Pogacar rode away from the rest. There was nothing they could do. Within a few hundred metres his lead was over 20 seconds. There’s only one man in the race who can hurt him,” observed Robbie McEwan, and that’s himself.”
Past the Pantani banners, the Slovenian soloed over the top and cruised carefully down the technical turns of the descent, to take the stage victory by more than a minute. It was the sixth win of the season for the 23 year-old, the 36th of his short professional career.
"I had good legs and decided to go for it,” Pogacar said afterwards.
While there was only one winner in Pogacar, who now only needs to make it to tomorrow’s finish to take the overall title, the day’s biggest losers included Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep AlphaVinyl), for whom the climb proved too much of a test. Enric Mas who limped home more than four minutes in arrears after hitting the deck on the second descent.
"I didn’t even think about trying to go with him,” said Vingegaard of Pogacar, after the stage. "He was just incredible today. So much better than everyone else.”
Asked why he had opted for rim brakes rather than the discs chosen by the other GC contenders, Pogacar simply pointed to the weight difference between them: "300g is a lot,” he said.

‘Absolutely magnificent!’ - Pogacar soars to solo victory on Stage 6

STAGE 6 RESULT
1 - Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) 5:28:57s
2 - Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) +1:03s
3 - Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) ,,
4 - Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) +1:34s
5 - Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) +1:49s
6 - Jai Hindley (Bora-hansgrohe) ,,
7 - Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) ,,
8 - Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) +2:23s
9 - Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) ,,
10 - Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) ,,

GENERAL CLASSIFICATION
1 - Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) 23:45:55
2 - Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) +0:01:52
3 - Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) +0:02:33
4 - Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) +0:02:44
5 - Jai Hindley (Bora Hansgrohe) +00:03:05
6 - Thymen Arensman (Team DSM) +00:03:16
7 - Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) +00:03:20
8 - Thibaut Pinot (Groupama FDJ) +00:03:37
9 - Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious) +00:03:51
10 - Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo) +00:04:03
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