Sanchez grabs biggest career win on Giro Stage 6 and Pogacar stays in front

Spain's Pelayo Sanchez sprints ahead of France's Julian Alaphilippe to win the sixth stage of the of the Giro d'Italia, Tour of Italy cycling race, from Viareggio to Rapolano Terme, Italy, Thursday, May 9, 2024. (Massimo Paolone/LaPresse via AP)

RAPOLANO TERME, Italy — An incredulous Pelayo Sanchez won the sixth stage of the Giro d’Italia while Tadej Pocagar remained the leader on Thursday after riding on white, dusty gravel roads normally used in another famous race.

Sanchez edged fellow breakaway riders Julian Alaphilippe and Luke Plapp in a sprint at the end of the 180-kilometre (112-mile) route from Torre Del Lago Puccini — on the outskirts of Viareggio — to Rapolano Terme.

Sanchez was stunned by his achievement and kept shaking his head and putting his hands over his face. The Spaniard repeatedly said, “I can’t believe it,” as he was hugged by his Movistar teammates and others.

His first victory in a grand tour, on his Giro debut, came just over a year after Sanchez’s first professional win.

“This is amazing, I don’t have words. Crazy, crazy day for me,” the 24-year-old Sanchez said. “Since the start of the Giro, I tried to save energy because I knew I didn’t have the shape to be in the front in the first days.

“So, I tried to save energy for today and today I could be in the breakaway. But I could never imagine to win here the stage. For me, it’s crazy. I don’t have words.”

Pogacar, the two-time Tour de France champion, finished safely in the peloton to remain 46 seconds ahead of Geraint Thomas and 47 seconds ahead of Daniel Martinez.

It was a tricky stage. The first half was largely flat. The second part had three sectors of white gravel that give the Strade Bianche race its name, as well as two classified climbs.

Pogacar claimed his second Strade Bianche victory two months ago but said he was happy to let the breakaway stay out front on Thursday, after a handful of riders finally escaped on the fourth-category climb to Volterra, shortly before the halfway point.

The escapees built their advantage to over three minutes on the approach to the first gravel sector before the peloton reeled them in. There were just three left up front as Sanchez led them across the line, 29 seconds ahead of Pogacar and the rest of the contenders.

“For us it was perfect if they stay away, we were always riding normal pace when it was flat sections and on the climbs rolling,” Pogacar said. “We didn’t want to spend too much energy, so we were happy with that breakaway.

“For me was OK. Good stage. I’m happy that it’s over. And, it was, enjoyable to ride again these gravel roads, but, I prefer Strade Bianche.”

Friday’s seventh stage is the first of only two individual time trials. The 40.6-kilometre (25-mile) route from Foligno to Perugia ends in a fourth-category climb.

“Today I had good legs, so yeah let’s see what I can do tomorrow,” Pogacar said.

The Giro ends in Rome on May 26.

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