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While Kittel suffers a puncture in the finale, Greipel launches a perfectly timed sprint to hold off Kristoff and Dumoulin for his first stage win in this year’s Tour; Nibali defends lead while Pinot, Rolland and Nieve lose time

Photo: Sirotti

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF

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ANDRÉ GREIPEL

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ASTANA QAZAQSTAN TEAM

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LOTTO-DSTNY

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SAMUEL DUMOULIN

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TOUR DE FRANCE

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VINCENZO NIBALI

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10.07.2014 @ 18:00 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

André Greipel (Lotto Belisol) finally put his many disappointments behind him when he won today’s sixth stage of the Tour de France in the traditional bunch sprint in Reims. The German exploited the situation when Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) suffered a late puncture, and easily held off Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r) in the final dash to the line while Vinceno Nibali (Astana) survived a difficult day in the crosswinds that saw Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Mikel Nieve (Sky lose almost a minute.

 

The first part of the Tour de France certainly didn’t go according to plan for André Greipel who even got criticized by his own team director for being too afraid in the hectic finales. Today he made up for the many disappointments when he won the sixth stage of the race in a bunch sprint.

 

Going into the final kilometres, all was set for a big battle between the sprinters in Reims that has traditionally been the scene of some of the greatest bunch kicks but crosswinds threatened to create havoc on the peloton. Omega Pharma-Quick Step had a clear plan to exploit the conditions and inside the final 10km they set a brutal pace that caused the peloton to split to pieces.

 

For the sprinters, it was all about staying in a good position as the Belgian team continued to drop the hammer and Greipel was always up there, constantly riding in the front positions. With a little more than 1km to go, Cannondale took over with Marco Marcato and Fabio Sabatini and at this point but all was still set for another victory for Marcel Kittel.

 

However, the German suddenly dropped back, having suffered a puncture in the finale, and this forced Giant-Shimano to change their plans and ride for Tom Veelers. Meanwhile, the windy conditions had put all teams on their limit and when the Cannondale riders swung off, there was no one ready to take over.

 

Passing the flame rouge, Michal Kwiatkowski saw his chance and the Pole launched a gutsy attack that quickly saw him open a solid gap. Behind, Alexander Porsev had to ride hard for Katusha but for a brief moment it seemed that Kwiatkowski could stay away.

 

He started to fade though and when Kevin Reza (Europcar) took over, he closed the final tiny bit of the gap. Just as the junction was made, Greipel launched a powerful sprint an d from there the outcome was never in doubt.

 

Greipel powered down the middle of the road and even though Alexander Kristoff and Samuel Dumoulin tried to come around him, they didn’t make up any ground on the German champion who had plenty of time to celebrate his win. Kristoff held on to take another second place while Dumoulin completed the podium.

 

The windy conditions had tailed off a big group with Thibaut Pinot, Pierre Rolland and Mikel Nieve and despite hard work by Sky, Europcar and FDJ, they ended up losing 58 seconds to their GC rivals. As opposed to this, Vincenzo Nibali was always kept safe by his Astana team and he crossed the line safely to defend his overall lead.

 

He takes his 2-second lead over teammate Jakob Fuglsang into tomorrow’s seventh stage whose 234.5km makes it one of the longest of the race. It is mostly flat but two climbs in the finale should make for some interesting racing that could put the sprinters on the back foot.

 

A flat stage

After yesterday’s carnage, the Tour de France continued with its sixth stage which brought the riders over 194km from Arras to Reims. The route was mostly flat as only two category 4 climbs could potentially challenge the sprinters but strong winds were forecasted and was expected to have an impact on the race.

 

The riders took the start in Arras under light rain and pretty cold conditions. One rider who finished yesterday's stage didn't sign in this morning. Maximiliano Richeze had already crashed twice in the first two days of the race and yesterday he hit the deck again. With a big wound in his knee that required stitches, he became the second Lampre-Merida rider to abandon the race.

 

The break takes off

Everybody expected a sprint stage today and so there was no fight to join the early break. Tom Leezer (Belkin) attacked straight from the gun and he was joined by Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne), Jerome Pineau (IAM) and Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) who was already on the attack two days ago.

 

The quartet started to build a gap that reached 3.15 after 9km of racing and at the 14km mark, they were already 4.15 ahead. At this point, Giant-Shimano put four riders on the front, with Cheng Ji setting the pace, and they started to stabilize the gap.

 

Giant lead the chase

After 21km of racing, it was still 4.15 but now it started to come down. Ji was joined by Dries Devenyns and the pair had reduced the deficit to 3.35 after 50km of racing.

 

At the 75km mark, it had dropped below the 3-minute mark and this is where Giant-Shimano wanted to keep it. For most of the stage, Devenyns and Ji set a steady pace to keep it stable.

 

Mate scores points

However, the peloton was very nervous and there was a constant fight for position behind the Giant riders. Everybody wanted to stay near the front as the windy conditions constantly threatened to create carnage.

 

With 90km to go, it started to rain just as the riders went up the first climb of the day. Mate set the pace all the way to the top and took the only point on offer uncontested.

 

Demare crashes

The riders had barely crested the summit before the first of several crashed happened in the slippery conditions. Arnaud Demare (FDJ), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Egor Silin (Katusha) and Xabier Zandio (Sky) were all involved and unfortunately the latter two had to abandon the race.

 

Moments later, another crash brought down the likes of Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Leopold König (NetApp) but everybody managed to get back on their bikes. Meanwhile, Cannondale had taken control of the peloton to set up Peter Sagan for the intermediate sprint.

 

Points for Sagan

While Leezer took maximum points uncontested, the sprinter amassed on the front but they didn’t really sprint for the points. Renshaw led Sagan, Grepel and Petacchi across the line but the action had brought the gap down to 2.05.

 

Ji and Devenyns went back to work but moments later Sagan went down in a crash while he was getting attended to by the race doctor, OPQS tried to attack in the crosswinds, with Jan Bakelants, iki Terpstra, Michal Golas and Tony Martin setting the pace.

 

Sagan is off the back

The peloton briefly split and Sagan and Demare found themselves in a group that was almost a minute back at one point. However, OPQS stopped their effort and as Giant-Shimano again took over the pace-setting, the Sagan group rejoined the group.

 

The gap was now only 25 seconds and so Giant stopped their chase. However, the nervousness was palpable and for the next several kilometres, Giant, Tinkoff-Saxo and Astana were riding next to each other on the front.

 

A nervous peloton

The escapees managed to extend their gap back up to 1.10 while a crash brought down Jesus Hernandez (Tinkoff-Saxo) who was forced to abandon. Meanwhile, Mate again took maximum points on the final climb without getting challenged by his rivals.

 

The battle for position was still fierce and now the gao again started to come down. Belkin and BMC also moved to the front row and with 24km to go, Sep Vanmarcke even took control as they went through a small town.

 

The break splits up

With 20km to go, the peloton started to split in the crosswinds while up ahead Gerard launched the first attack. He failed to get clear but then Mate gave it a go.

 

Only Pineau responed while Leezer and Gerard dropped back to the peloton that was led by Giant, OPQS, Lotto and Tinkoff. Next Pineau tried an attack but he failed to drop Mate.

 

Mate off on his own

Mate made the next small dig with 15km to go and now Pineau cracked. While the IAM rider fell back to the peloton, Mate continued on his own.

 

However, OPQS had now taken control of the peloton with Jan Bakelants, Michal Golas, Tony Martin and Niki Terpstra swapping turns on the front and this caused the peloton to split to pieces. Mate was soon brought back while riders continued to drop off.

 

Pinot, Rolland and Nieve lose time

Demare was one of the first to fall off but with 6km to go, Nieve, Rolland and Pinot were tailed off. Their teams all started to chase but they continued to lose ground to the OPQS-led peloton that briefly got assistance from Tinkoff-Saxo.

 

With 2km to go, Luca Palini hit the front for Katusha before Alessandro Petachhi (OPQS) took a big turn. Moments later, Marcato and Sabatini took over and that was when Kittel dropped off.

 

Passing the flame rouge, Kwiatkowski launched his attack but the Pole failed in his mission and instead Greipel took his first Tour de France stage win in 2014.

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