Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won the sixth stage of the 100th Tour de France on Thursday.
Greipel’s squad led him out nicely near the finish of the 176.5-kilometer stage from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier. In the final 150 meters, he pulled around a teammate and muscled his way to the finish line.
Finishing second was Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who leads the race for the green jersey. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) was third, while Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took fourth.
“I was really nervous,” Greipel said. “I told the guys to wait as long as possible. Everybody stayed together. We hit the front with 2 km to go, and I think everybody could see we have some horsepower on the team. … I just tried to stay focused today to get the victory, and I’m really proud of this team.”
Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge) took the yellow jersey from his teammate Simon Gerrans, and is the first African to lead the Tour de France. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) is 3 seconds back in second, while Gerrans is 5 seconds behind in third.
“It’s a big thing for South Africa — makes me very proud to have the yellow jersey,” Impey said. “I couldn’t have done it without the leadout from Simon.
“Everyone’s dreaming of [the yellow jersey] when you’re young.”
Chris Froome (Sky) is 8 seconds behind Impey in seventh, and Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) is 14 ticks back in 11th.
The mostly flat stage, coupled with a strong tailwind, made for some fast racing on Thursday. The peloton was steaming along at speeds in excess of 50 kph. Late in the stage, Omega Pharma was pushing the pace at the front.
In the final 5km, Lotto, Cannondale, and Argos joined Omega Pharma as each squad tried to set up its sprinters for the finish.
With about 20.5km left, Cavendish crashed near a roundabout. The incident was not caught by television cameras, but the after effects were: The left side and the back of his jersey was tattered and dirty.
He quickly remounted his bike and began a furious sprint back to the peloton. Riding through the team cars, Cavendish darted through openings between cars and motorcycles at top speed.
At one point, Cavendish made a daring move as another roundabout approached. He took the inside line and bunny hopped over the curb as he zoomed past two cars. It was a hair-raising ride on a pancake-flat road with a tailwind helping him along.
Eventually, teammate Peter Velits dropped back and escorted him back to the peloton, and then near the front with the rest of the squad.
Early solo move
Immediately after the stage began, Luis Maté (Cofidis) jumped out front and created a one-man breakaway. The effort was bound to fail, as the stage profile was guaranteed to result in a bunch sprint.
And fail it did. After opening a maximum gap of 5:30, Maté began to crumble after 20km. He was able to stay out front for a bit longer but was eventually caught 44km into the stage.
From that point on, every rider in the field was together.
Before the start of stage 6, Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) withdrew from the race with an injured knee. He was part of the crash near the finish of stage 5.
“It was not good that we lost VDB this morning,” Greipel said of Van den Broeck. “We tried to keep the motivation up. We were focused today. You could see how strong the team was today, and how well we prepared for the sprint today.”
Also pulling out of the Tour were Nacer Bouhanni (Europcar) and Frederik Kessiakoff (Astana). Both were in the late crash in stage 5 and both pulled out during Thursday’s stage.
Friday’s stage 7 measures 205.5km and takes the riders from Montpellier to Albi.