German national champion Andre Greipel of Lotto-Belisol won the sixth stage of the 2014 Tour de France Thursday, out-sprinting Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Samuel Dumolin (Ag2r La Mondiale).
Greipel’s German compatriot Marcel Kittel of Giant-Shimano, who had won the first three field sprints of this year’s Tour, punctured in the closing kilometers and did not feature in the final sprint.
“It was a really nervous stage, you had to be all the time in the front,” Greipel said. “I am really happy with my team, they kept me all the time in the front, especially in the last 30km. In the end we didn’t have a leadout train, but with all the roundabouts, it was not easy to stay together. With 250 meters I said to myself ‘Go full gas now, and whatever happens will happen.’ I’m really happy to get this stage win. There’s been a lot of pressure on us to win a stage, and now we have it. Anyone who was doubting Lotto-Belisol, I think we have our answer today.”
The peloton raced in wet, windy conditions on the 194km stage from Arras to Reims. There was one non-starter, Max Richeze (Lampre).
Four riders went clear from the gun: Tom Leezer (Belkin), Luis Maté (Cofidis), Jérôme Pineau (IAM) and Arnaud Gérard (Bretagne-Séché).
A series of crashes midway through the race saw several riders on the ground, and forced the abandonment of Xavier Zandio (Sky), Egor Silin (Katusha), and Jesus Hernandez (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Other riders to crash, but continue on, included green jersey wearer Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Tom-Jelte Slagter and Jack Bauer (Garmin-Sharp), Arnaud Démare and William Bonnet (FDJ), and Rein Taaramäe and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis).
After the second consecutive crash, just prior to the intermediate sprint with 75km to go, leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) asked Giant-Shimano to slow down at the head of the peloton and allow teams to regroup.
With 52km to go, the gap to the four leaders hovered at one minute; with 29km it remained the same.
Once the breakaway was reeled in with 12km to go, Omega Pharma-Quick Step came forward in the bunch, with Tony Martin, Niki Terpstra, and Jan Bakelants looking to set up its sprinter, Mark Renshaw.
The team’s young Polish rider Michal Kwiatkoski took a flyer insider the final kilometer, but was caught and passed just before the line, where Greipel overpowered Kristoff for the win.
“It was a good attack from Kwiatkowski, and we had to stay calm,” Greipel said. “I had really good legs today, and I am really happy that the team kept me in front all day. I am really happy that we finally got the win. Four stage wins in six days for Germany, and Germany in the World Cup final, it’s a big time for German sport. There was a lot of pressure for me, but we were working hard the whole week. Today, we stayed calm, but it was very nervous in the end. It was complicated in the final roundabout. I could get in good position for the sprint, and I had a lot power left in the end.”
Sagan finished fifth on the stage, his lowest finish on any stage of this year’s race; the Cannondale rider looked visibly disappointed at the podium presentation, where he was again awarded the green jersey and the white jersey of best young rider.
“That was bad to crash again today but I have nothing broken, so I’m fine,” Sagan said. “A guy crashed in front of me and another crashed behind, he’s the one who took me down. But after two crashes I’m still here while other riders have had to go home. I just hope that my bad luck is gone. Today I’ve been boxed in and I came fifth without even sprinting, so it’s all good for the green jersey. Maybe tomorrow is my chance for a stage win finally, but first I have to recover from my crash.”
Nibali and the rest of the main GC contenders — Alberto Contador, Richie Porte, Andrew Talansky, Tejay van Garderen, Jurgen Van den Broeck, Rui Costa, and Bauke Mollema — all finished on the same time.
“There was a lot of wind in the final stages,” Nibali said. “It was important to stay in the group, and in good position. There was a lot of stress. It was much harder stage than it appeared, especially after the energy we used yesterday. Today we spent a lot of energy, and with the stress, it’s even more. A crash right now would have huge implications. The team did great work today to protect me.”