André Greipel of Lotto-Belisol has won his first stage of the 2014 Tour de France, winning Stage 6 in Reims in a bunch sprint from a reduced front group that was missing Giant-Shimano's Marcel Kittel, winner of thre stages already this year, but who lost touch with the leaders ahead of the final kilometre. Alexander Kristoff of Katusha finished second, with AG2R's Samuel Dumoulin third. Astana's Vincenzo Nibali retains the race leader's yellow jersey, crossing the line in the lead group of 70 or so riders but which included his chief rivals for the overall title .
It was a technical finale to the 194 kilometre stage from Arras, including a series of nine roundabouts inside the closing 5 kilometres, but it was rain and strong winds throughout the day had caused problems for the peloton.
Once again, the stage was marred by a series of crashes, forcing a number of riders to abandon, including Team Sky’s Xavier Zandio, who would have been a key domestique for Richie Porte in the mountains but who is out with a suspected broken collarbone after a crash with 79 kilometres remaining.
Also departing the race today are the man who started the day as lanterne rouge – the last rider overall – Angel Richeze of Lampre-Merida, who failed to start, plus two riders who crashed this afternoon, Jesus Hernandez of Tinkoff-Saxo, due to support Alberto Contador in the mountains but who suffered severe concussion, and Katusha’s Igor Silin.
Other riders to come down today included points classification leader Peter Sagan of Cannondale Pro Cycling, who fell in a crash 67 kilometres out ahead of the exposed ridge of the Chemin des Dames, but was able to continue.
The effect of the crashes and the crosswinds was to split the peloton into separate groups. But with no one team seeking to exploit an advantage the race came together as it pursued the day’s break, comprising Belkin’s Tom Leezer, Luis Mate of Cofidis, IAM’s Jerome Pineau and Arnaud Gerard of Bretagne-Séché Environnement.
With Giant-Shimano driving the pace of the peloton to try and set up Kittel, the catch of the final escapee, Mate, was made with around 12 kilometres remaining ahead of the difficult finale in Reims, with Omega Pharma-Quick Step taking over duties at the head of the peloton as it headed into the final 5 kilometres.
The Belgian team’s Michal Kwiatkowski made a solo bid for glory coming under the flamme rouge, briefly gapping the chasing bunch, but never looked likely to stay away as the sprinters were set up for the final charge to the line, Greipel prevailing to take the sixth Tour de France stage win of his career.
André Greipel, after taking his sixth Tour de France stage win
That was hard! Especially in the last thirty kilometres with the side wind, it was a tough race. Maybe I didn't have a proper lead out train but we rode like crazy at the last roundabout. Fortunately we stayed together and I found a good wheel in following Mark Renshaw. I went full gas with 350 metres to go.
It was pretty early but I thought whatever happens is fine as long as I give everything. I felt a lot of pressure after the first few stages but finally we have a victory. It's a good answer from Lotto-Belisol to the critics. My confidence was always there. We stayed calm and did a really good work. My team-mates and myself, we deserve this win.
Yellow jersey, Vincenzo Nibali
It wasn't a quiet stage at all. On paper it should have been like that but nervousness was always there in the peloton because of the wind. In the finale in particular, we could feel it but I was well covered by my team.
This morning I was happy to see myself in the front page of L'Equipe and other newspapers. It showed that we achieved something big yesterday but now, I still want to take it day by day and keep my feet on the ground.
I'm asked to win again tomorrow as there's a hill in the finishing town but I'll have to take into account all the elements of the race. I'll draw the conclusions of the first week of racing in Nancy.
Peter Sagan, leader of the points contest
That was bad to crash again today but I have nothing broken, so I'm fine. 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 firstly I have to recover from my crash.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.