Vuelta a Espana 2017
Marczynski, the 33-year-old at Lotto Soudal, darted clear from the wheel of Quick-Step Floorsyoungster Mas and held off Bora-Hansgrohe’s Poljanski in a three-way sprint at the conclusion of the undulating 204.4km stage in the province of Valencia.
With the majority of Froome’s principal rivals finishing alongside the quadruple Tour de France champion, the main change at the top saw the American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) drop to fourth place after crashing twice in a frantic final hour of racing.
Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) also leapfrogged David de la Cruz of Quick-Step Floors into the top five after the Spaniard failed to fight back after being distanced on the fifth and final climb on another sweltering day some 40km from the finish.
Britain’s Froome retains his red jersey by 11 seconds over Colombia’s Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and 13 seconds over Ireland’s Nico Roche (BMC), with Van Garderen down to fourth place at 27 seconds and fifth-place Nibali at 36 seconds.
The big casualty of the day – besides the battered and bruised Van Garderen – was Frenchman Romain Bardet of Ag2R-La Mondiale, who came home more than six minutes down on his rivals to plummet down the standings to 31st place.
With the remnants of a large break riding two minutes up the road, the race was turned on its head when Spanish veteran Alberto Contador danced on the pedals with trademark panache on the second-category Puerto del Garbi.
A series of attacks from the Trek-Segafredo rider saw the main pack blown apart – with Froome, BMC duo Roche and Van Garderen, and the Colombian Carlos Betancur (Movistar) the only riders able to retain contact after the maximum 22% ramp.
This select group had picked up some of the escapees – including Contador’s Trek team-mate Jarlinson Pantano – when Van Garderen had the first of his incidents.
On a short downhill drag ahead of the final rise to the summit, the American appeared to hit a lump on the road at exactly the same point where escapees Axel Domont (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Jesper Hansen (Astana) had skidded off the road, taking down Betancur in the process.
Meanwhile, Marczynski crested the summit in pole position ahead of his compatriot Poljanski and the Spanish debutant Mas. The trio held a gap of one minute over the red jersey group, with Sanchez and fellow Spaniard Antonio Pedrero (Movistar) – who were both part of the large 28-man break that formed over the first two hours – stuck in between.
On the long descent a number of the general classification favourites returned to the heels of the red jersey as a large chase group formed – with De la Cruz and Van Garderen the notable absentees.
Having caught the leaders, Sanchez and Pedrero sat up once the chasing group came within six seconds – with over 10km still remaining. It was to prove a huge error of judgement by Sanchez, who was left ruing his call when the trio dug deep to extend its lead to 40 seconds inside the final 8km.
With 5km remaining Sanchez, trying to make amends, darted clear with Polanc – but it was too little, too late. The leaders had 25 seconds to play with entering the final kilometre, and after the inexperienced Mas opened up the sprint on the home straight, Marczynski surged clear and held off his fellow Polish veteran to take the biggest win of his career.
The victory was only Lotto Soudal’s second Grand Tour stage win of the season – with the Belgian team not winning since Andre Greipel’s solitary win in Stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia back in May.
Behind, Van Garderen’s bad luck continued when – having almost fought back to join the red jersey group – he lost his front wheel on a roundabout and slid into the curb.
The American recovered to finish at the back of the De la Cruz chasing group – 43 seconds behind the leaders to concede 17 seconds to Froome and his rivals.
For all his attacking panache, Contador was unable to reduce his deficit and stays 3’10” down on Froome despite rising to 23rd place on GC.
Italy’s Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac) extended his lead in the polka dot jersey standings after taking maximum points over the first two third-category climbs of the day from the break.
Meanwhile another Italian, the Stage 4 winner Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), retained the green jersey points classification.
La Vuelta continues on Friday with the longest stage of the race – the 207km Stage 7 from Lliria to Cuenca, which includes three lower-category climbs ahead of a fast finish.