Andre Greipel returned to form in style by sprinting to victory in Thursday’s sixth stage of the Tour de France. The German continued his country’s impressive Tour form by winning the 194km stage from Arras to Reims. Compatriot Marcel Kittel had won three of the first four stages. Norway’s Alexander Kristoff was second with Samuel Dumoulin of France third. Race leader Vincenzo Nibali kept hold of the yellow jersey as he and the rest of the overall contenders finished safely in a reduced peloton. An early four-man breakaway failed to ignite a stage that had a sense of anti-climax following the drama of Wednesday’s cobbled stage. Things only got heated in the final 10km, after the escapees had been caught, when the pace rose and crosswinds contributed to a split in the peloton. French champion Arnaud Demare was caught out, as well as his compatriot Thibaut Pinot, the top French hope in the general classification. Having dominated the three previous sprints for stage wins, Kittel seemed to be suffering the effects of a fall on Wednesday while his team were strangely missing from the front of the peloton. Before the final kilometer he had dropped out of the reckoning. Without Kittel it was anyone’s sprint to win but Greipel, hitherto out of sorts in the sprints, powered through to win his sixth Tour stage.
Andre Greipel admitted he was relieved after finally returning to sprint form to claim Thursday’s sixth stage of the Tour de France in style. The German had been out of sorts in sprints so far during the Tour, managing one sixth-placed finish on Tuesday’s fourth stage while compatriot Marcel Kittel dazzled, winning three of the opening four stages. “There were two sprints where I couldn’t compete for different reasons but today I was really motivated and focussed to have a good position for the sprint. I’m really happy the pressure’s off for the stage win,” said the 31-year-old, who took his total tally to six Tour stage wins. “Of course, it’s a big relief for us (Lotto-Belisol), there was a lot of pressure on our shoulders because we worked really hard this week but for different reasons it didn’t work out.” His victory ahead of Norway’s Alexander Kristoff in second and Samuel Dumoulin of France in third was the fourth by German riders in six stages of this year’s Tour.
However, until now it was the giant figure of Kittel who had dominated. On Thursday his Giant-Shimano team were strangely absent from the leading positions in the run-in and Kittel himself suffered a puncture before the final kilometer that put him out of the reckoning. But Greipel dismissed his compatriot’s misfortune as a factor in his win. “I’m not looking at Kittel, I don’t know what happened with him. I don’t need to hide, I’m still one of the fastest in the bunch. I just need to be there at the right time in the right place.”
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali kept hold of the yellow jersey as he and the rest of the overall contenders finished safely in a reduced peloton. The 29-year-old Italian said he was relieved to have come through these first six stages unscathed but said he wasn’t getting carried away by his prospects of overall victory, despite holding a lead of more than two minutes on most of his main rivals. “These are very difficult days because you use a lot of energy. There is incredible stress and crashes are a consequence of that,” he said. “I’ll say it again, it’s a long path so I’ll keep my feet on the ground and stay calm.” Nibali’s Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang is second at 2sec with green jersey holder Peter Sagan, who was fifth on the stage, third at 44sec. Young Polish rider Michal Kwiatkowski, who made an audacious lone bid for victory from more than a kilometer out before being caught at around the 400m mark, remains fourth at 50sec.
An early four-man breakaway failed to ignite a stage that had a sense of anti-climax following the drama of Wednesday’s cobbled stage. Thomas Leezer, Arnaud Gerard, Jerome Pineau and Luis Mate did a valiant job of staying clear on a along 194km stage from Arras to Reims. Mate lasted the longest but was reeled in with 12km left, taking away the combativity prize for the day as his reward. Things only got heated in the final 10km when the pace rose and crosswinds contributed to a split in the peloton. French champion Arnaud Demare was caught out, as well as his compatriot Thibaut Pinot, the top French hope in the general classification who lost another minute to Nibali and now sits almost 3min 30sec back. Without Kittel it was anyone’s sprint to win but Greipel, hitherto out of sorts in the sprints, launched his sprint finish early and powered through nonetheless. “At 250m to go I said to myself ‘I have to go now’. It worked well, I had really good punch today,” said the victor.
1. Andr Greipel (GER/LTB) 4h11min 39sec
2. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/KAT) at 0:00.
3. Samuel Dumoulin (FRA/ALM) 0:00.
4. Mark Renshaw (AUS/OPQ) 0:00.
5. Peter Sagan (SVK/CAN) 0:00.
6. Romain Feillu (FRA/BSE) 0:00.
7. Tom Veelers (NED/GIA) 0:00.
8. Bryan Coquard (FRA/EUC) 0:00.
9. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL/BKN) 0:00.
10. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/IAM) 0:00.
1. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 24h38min 25sec
2. Jakob Diemer Fuglsang (DEN/AST) at 0:02.
3. Peter Sagan (SVK/CAN) 0:44.
4. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/OPQ) 0:50.
5. Fabian Cancellara (SWI/TRE) 1:17.
6. Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL/LTB) 1:45.
7. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LTB) 1:45.
8. Richie Porte (AUS/SKY) 1:54.
9. Andrew Talansky (USA/GRM) 2:05.
10. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 2:11.