Andre Greipel sprints to victory on stage 6, Nibali holds steady in yellow
After struggling to make an impression in the early sprint stages of this year’s Tour de France, Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) has opened his account with a win on the mainly flat sixth stage from Arras to Reims. Vincenzo Nibali finished safely in the bunch and maintains his overall lead.
After the drama and excitement of yesterday’s crash-marred fifth stage of the Tour de France, stage 6 was always going to be somewhat of an anti-climax. And it was, at least to begin with.
From the end of the neutral zone in Arras four riders broke clear of the peloton: Tom Leezer (Belkin), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), Jerome Pineau (IAM) and Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne-Seche). The quartet began the job of constructing an advantage over the peloton and after 11km of racing they had two minutes.
After 44km of racing, with 150km left on the stage, the break had a little more than four minutes but with Giant-Shimano taking up their familiar position on the front of the peloton — led once again by China’s first ever Tour de France rider, Cheng Ji — the gap stabilised.
Very little happened in the next 50km, besides the breakaway’s lead dropping to around three minutes thanks to a steady tempo being set by Giant-Shimano.
With the first of two fourth category climbs approaching rain started to fall on the race. It was Luis Angel Mate that took the single KOM point over the climb which peaked with 86.5km remaining.
With a little less than 80km left to race the first in a series of crashes on the slick, wet roads saw Xabier Zandio (Sky) and Egor Silin (Katusha) hit the deck and abandon the race. Another crash just a few minutes later saw Spanish national champion Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and Marcus Burghardt (BMC) among those to touch down. Jesus Hernandez would later abandon the race as well, giving Alberto Contador one less ally when the race heads to the mountains.
In the day’s intermediate sprint in Pinon it was Tom Leezer who took the maximum points ahead of Gerard, Pineau and Mate. In the peloton Peter Sagan (Cannondale) broke clear of the main field in search of sprint points, but he was beaten by Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
The four leaders’ gap was down to two minutes just after the intermediate sprint as Peter Sagan headed back to the doctor’s car to get some treatment on his elbow after an earlier crash.
A flurry of crashes just inside 70km to go saw momentary splits in the peloton, with Peter Sagan caught in a group more than a minute behind. A slight change of direction saw the riders buffeted by crosswinds and Omega Pharma-QuickStep came to the front in an attempt to ensure the peloton didn’t come back together.
The pace being set by Omega Pharma-QuickStep saw the gap to the peloton reduced to 33 seconds by the time there was 60km to go, but then the pace eased, Giant-Shimano came back to the front, and normal service resumed. The slight easing in the tempo saw the Sagan group make contact with the peloton once more.
The easier tempo also allowed the breakaway riders to push their advantage back out to around 50 seconds with 50km to go. But as they had been all day, the four leaders were well within the peloton’s grasp; they were just being left out there to dissuade any further groups from getting away.
On the second and final climb of the day, the fourth category Cote de Roucy 37km from the finish, it was Luis Angel Mate that again took the only point available. The gap was back out beyond a minute when the peloton crested the climb as light drizzle continued to fall on the riders.
From this point the pace in the main field started to increase. With 25km remaining Belkin was on the front with Tinkoff-Saxo and Giant-Shimano, and the gap was down to 20 seconds. With 20km left the gap was inside 10 seconds, but the riders in the breakaway weren’t about to give up.
Arnaud Gerard attacked his breakaway companions but was promptly caught by the other three leaders. Pineau and Mate tried their hand a short time later as Veelers and Gerard drifted backwards and were caught by the peloton with 18km to go.
A flighty Luis Angel Mate attacked solo with 16.1km to the line leaving Pineau to get caught soon after. Mate’s solo escape lasted until there was 11km remaining, at which point he was caught by a strung-out peloton.
The heavy tempo being set by Omega Pharma-QuickStep, combined with crosswinds in the closing kilometres, saw the peloton split into two main groups. French national champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) were among the riders on the wrong side of the gap.
As the riders entered the final 5km there was a gap of 25 seconds from the first peloton to the second as Tony Martin led an Omega Pharma-QuickStep team time trial. Katusha joined the front of the field with a little more than 3km to go but the ever impressive Giant-Shimano train was nowhere to be seen — Marcel Kittel had
punctured been caught in the crosswinds* and wouldn’t get a chance at his fourth stage victory just yet.
Michal Kwiatkowski capitalised on the solid job being done by his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammates, putting in a daring solo attack with 1.1km to the line. For a moment he looked as if he might hold off the surging peloton, but he was caught by the Katusha-led peloton with 300m to go, just in time for the final sprint.
It was Andre Greipel who leapt first, opening up a slight advantage and maintaining the gap all the way to the line for his first stage win at this year’s Tour de France. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was second while Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r-La Mondiale) took third.
A little further back Peter Sagan was clocking up his worst stage finish of this year’s Tour so far: fifth place. He retains the lead in the points classification and the best young rider classification. Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) continues to lead the KOM classification and will wear the polka dot jersey tomorrow for the fourth day in a row.
Vincenzo Nibali safely negotiated the split in the peloton in the closing stages and finished in the lead group, holding on to his lead in the general classification. The late split in the peloton saw the second main group finish 59 seconds behind the Greipel-led group with a handful of riders in between.
The Tour de France continues in Epernay tomorrow ahead of a 235km stage to Nancy which features two short climbs right near the finish.
* Initial reports suggested Kittel had suffered a puncture. We now know that’s not true.
Previous stage reports
– Stage 1: Marcel Kittel takes Tour opener as Cavendish and Gerrans crash
– Stage 2: Vincenzo Nibali wins in Sheffield and takes Tour lead overall
– Stage 3: Marcel Kittel doubles up in London, Nibali holds on to yellow
– Stage 4: Marcel Kittel claims his third stage as Vincenzo Nibali defends yellow
– Stage 5: Lars Boom wins on the cobbles of stage 5 as Chris Froome crashes out
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