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In a head-to-head battle with Kittel, Cavendish emerged as the fastest and claimed his third victory on stage 6 of the Tour de France; McLay completed the podium and Van Avermaet retained the lead

Photo: A.S.O.

DANIEL MCLAY

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DIMENSION DATA

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GREG VAN AVERMAET

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MARCEL KITTEL

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MARK CAVENDISH

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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07.07.2016 @ 18:08 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) continued his resurgence at the top of the sprint hierarchy when he beat Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) in a head-to-head duel on stage 6 of the Tour de France. Sprinting next to the big German, the Brit narrowly held off his big rival to take his third stage win in just six days of racing while Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept) finished fast to take a fantastic third place. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) finished safely to retain the lead.

 

For the last three years, Mark Cavendish has spoken in admiration of Marcel Kittel whom he has openly admitted to have taken over his position as the fastest rider in the world. In fact, the Brit has often been proud just to be close to the big German as it was the case when he finished second at this year’s Scheldeprijs.

 

At the Tour de France, Cavendish has had a bit of a resurgence, winning the first two sprint stages, but in none of the sprints, Kittel has had an ideal opportunity to sprint. Hence, Cavendish had still not reall had the chance to prove that he is actually fast enough to beat his big rival in a direct duel.

 

Today the two giants had their fourth chance to sprint in the final flat stage of a hectic first week and this time it came down to a battle on pure speed. When it all came down to the expected bunch kick, Kittel launched his sprint from afar and Cavendish immediately tried to come around. Unlike in most of their previous battles, the Brit turned out to be the best as he took his third victory in impressive fashion.

 

The sprint came at the end of a relatively uneventful day where a small two-rider break had spent some time in the spotlight. They were brought back with 21km to go and then it was the usual waiting game for the sprint trains.

 

A combination of sprint and GC teams fought for position in the hectic finale and it was Lotto Soudal, LottoNL-Jumbo, Sky and Direct Energie that led the peloton into the final 5km, with their trains riding next to each other. Both Etixx-QuickStep and Dimension Data were and waited for their moment to strike.

 

With less than 4km to go, Sky finally backed off and then Tinkoff moved to the front with Maciej Bodnar and Michael Valgren. They strung out the field while their leader Peter Sagan had positioned himself on André Greipel’s (Lotto Soudal) wheel.

 

Bodnar took a huge turn, withLottoNL-Jumbo and Lotto Soudal gathered behind him but when he swung off Cofidis took over. Borut Bozic and Cyril Lemoine both rode on the front, keeping their sprinter Christophe Laporte up there.

 

Lemoine led the peloton under the 2km to go banner before LottoNL-Jumbo took over with Maartens Wynants, Robert Wagner leading Dylan Groenewegen. Wagner kept the pace high when Wynants swung off while Etixx-QuickStep finally started to move up.

 

Marco Haller (Katusha) was the next rider to hit the front, leading the Trek pair of Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns under the flamme rouge. From there, Stuyven took over but it was Jacopo Guarnieri who seemed to do the perfect lead-out for Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).

 

Guarnieri was passed by Fabio Sabatini who sprinted to the front but he had lost his captain Kittel. However, the German was lucky to see a gap and then launched his sprint from afar with Cavendish on his wheel. The Brit tried to pass and came around immediately. Kittel briefly seemed to have an extra gear but Sagan Cavendish held him off to take his third win. Daniel McLay did an impressive sprint to take third.

                                                                                                                                 

Greg Van Avermaet finished safely and so retained the lead and his advantage of 5.11 over Julian Alaphilippe. He faces his first big test as race leader in stage 7 which is the first one in the Pyrenees. The first 100km ae almost completely flat and then a small category 4 climb serves as a warm-up. Then a short flat section leads to the famous Col d’Aspin which averages 6.5% over 12km. The top is located just 7km from the finish and then it’s a short descent and 1.5km of light uphill in the finale.

                                                                 

A final chance for the sprinters

After yesterday’s hilly stage, it was back into flatter terrain for stage 6 which brought the riders over 190.5km from Arpajon sur-Cere to Montauban. The first part was held in Massif Central and was rather hilly as it included a category 3 and a category 4 climb but then it got significantly flatter. There was a final category 3 climb with 31.5km but otherwise there were no real challenges in the second half of the stage.

 

The entire peloton of 198 riders were still there when the riders gathered for the start in Massif Central under a sunny sky and in hot conditions. Many feared a bizarre stage like on the third day when no one showed any desire to attack, and the fear was confirmed. During the first three kilometers, there was not a single attempt, and and Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) and Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida) finally decided to attack, the peloton gladly let them ride away. While Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) and Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) had to deal with mechanical problems, the gap went out to 2.10 after just seven kilometers of racing.

 

The sprint teams take control

BMC dutifully hit the front but they happily let the gap grow to 4 minutes before Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data) took over. He stabilized the advantage and then Etixx QuickStep also emerged on the front. Eventually, Lotto Soudal also appeared and then the three great sprint teams kept the gap just below four minutes.

 

The riders covered 40.5km during an uneventful first hour and Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep), Teklehaimanot and Lars Bak (Lotto Soudal) traded pulls on the front for a few kilometres but as the escapees rode slowly, the mind games started. With 130km to go, the sprint teams suddenly disappeared from the front and the peloton came to a standstill. Marcus Burghardt (BMC) and Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) chatted for a while and allowed the gap to go out to 4.35 but when they hit the first climb, Bak, Vakoc and Teklehaimanot went back to work.

 

Coquard wins the sprint

Barta led Aarashiro across the line in the KOM sprint while the peloton reached the top 5.15 later. Having clearly agreed to share the KOM points, Arashiro was allowed to win the second sprint while Bak, Teklehaimanot and Vakoc continued to lead a very relaxed peloton.

 

Barta showed interest in the intermediate sprint and as Arashiro was not bothered, the Czech easily crossed the line in first position. In the peloton, Etixx-QuickStep did the full lead-out with Maximilano Richeze and Fabio Sabatini and delivered Marcel Kittel on the front for a very long sprint. However, the uphill finale took its toll and the big German was passed by Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie), Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenBikeexchange) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).

 

A slow chase

Vakoc, Bak and Teklehaimanot went back to work in the peloton which was now only 3.55 behind the leaders. BMC decided to honour the jersey and so Burghardt soon came to the fore to do his share of the work.

 

The gap was coming down steadily and was down to just 3.25 with 100km to go. Twenty kilometres later it had dropped to 2.10 and there was still no stress in the peloton.

 

Direct Energie come to the fore

Brent Bookwalter took over from his BMC teammate Burghardt but apart from that not much happened as the peloton slowly made its way towards the Pyrenees. The peloton even had to slow down significantly to avoid an early catch and they kept the gap stable around the two-minute mark for several kilometres.

 

Rohan Dennis was the next BMC rider to do his share of the work and he traded pulls with Bak, Teklehaimanot and Vakoc when they entered the final 50km 1.30 behind the leaders. This was the moment that Direct Energie had marked out and Thomas Voeckler came to the fore to take share in the pace-setting.

 

Barta wins the KOM sprint

The gap was down to 1.10 when they hit the final climb where Voeckler set a solid pace to try to make the race hard for some of the pure sprinters. However, he was not making a big acceleration and no one seemed to have difficulty following the group.

 

Barta accelerated to win the KOM sprint before Voeckler led the peloton to the top 45 seconds later. The pair soon started to cooperate again and were now going full gas.

 

Direct Energie in control

The effort paid off as the gap went back out to 1.10 when Bak, Teklehaimanot, Vakoc and Dennis went back to work. However, when Voeckler hit the front again, the gap again came down and it was down to 40 seconds with 32km to go.

 

Direct Energie took full control with Voeckler and Fabrice Jeandesboz and they rode full gas to try to make the race even harder. However, the escapees also dug very deep and they managed to stabilize the gap at 30 seconds.

 

The break is caught

With 25km to go, the fight for the combativity prize started when Barta made a small attack. However, Arashiro was strong and managed to close the gap.

 

Suddenly, there was a bit of tension in the peloton and this prompted Sky to briefly hit the front. Stephen Cummings took a short turn for Dimension Data but then Voeckler and Jeandesboz again took over.

 

Fortuneo-Vital Concept put Anthony Delaplace on the front and he traded pulls with the two Direct Energie riders. That spelled the end for the break which was caught with 21km to go.

 

A fight for position

There was a great fight for positions as Tinkoff, BMC, Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo lined up their troops next to the Direct Energie riders while Delaplace ended his work. Entering the final 20km, BMC took control with Michael Schär, Burghardt and Dennis and then Tinkoff, Direct Energie, Movistar and Cannondale lined up next to them. IAM also came to the fore to prepare Sondre Holst Enger for the sprint.

 

With 13km to go, Sky also moved up with Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Vasil Kiryienka leading the train. The Brits took full control as they approached a technical section and led the peloton into the final 10km.

 

A waiting game

Direct Energie moved up next to the Sky riders when they entered the final 10km and even Greg Van Avermaet showed himself in the front row. Trek and BMC also moved up and those four teams rode on the front as they hit the final 8km.

 

Stannard, Sylvain Chavanel (Sky), Gregory Rast (Trek) and Burghardt rode on the front for several kilometres and then LottoNL-Jumbo moved up, led by Paul Martens. With 6km to go, Rowe took over from Stannard and the Welshman lined up next to Chavanel. The waiting game continued before the sprinters finally battled it out in a big bunch sprint

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