André Greipel of `Lotto-Belisol has opened his account at the 100th Tour de France, winning Stage 6 in Montpellier as for the second day running, the race's star sprinters went head to head. Cannondale's Peter Sagan, leader of the points classification, finished second with Argos Shimano's Marcel Kittel thrid.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Mark Cavendish recovered from a crash some 34km from the end of the stage to rejoin the bunch, but was outgunned in the finale despite launching himself from 250 metres out, and finished fourth.
With a split in the bunch, Daryl Impey of Orica GreenEdge takes over the race leader's maillot jaune from team mate Simon Gerrans, and becomes the first South African to wear cycling's most famous jersey. Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen moves to second overall, three seconds down on Impey.
The new race leader isn't the first rider born on the continent of Africa to wear the maillot jaune - Richard Virenque, born to French parents in Casablanca, Morocco, spent a solitary day in yellow on the 1992 race.
Today's 176.5km stage from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier was raced hard from the start, in part because of the intermediate sprint points on offer a little over 60km into the route, but also because it traversed the Camargue, with strong winds raising the prospect of splits in the peloton.
In 2009, Mark Cavendish had benefited from such a split in this very area as his team at the time, HTC Columbia, put down the hammer as the wind changed direction, enabling him to win from a select group in La Grande Motte.
There were no such splits today, but Cavendish’s chances of taking his 25th career Tour de France victory suffered a setback from that crash that left his jersey shredded and, together with the subsequent chase back on, perhaps took a slight edge off his pace at the end.
Uncharacteristically although also maybe unsurprisingly, Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step team wasn’t driving the pace at the front of the main group in the closing kilometres.
Instead, it was Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol team who led what was a dwindling bunch, a number of riders losing contact due to the speed, under the flame rouge and onto the uphill drag to the finish, their reward coming as the new German national champion crossed first.
Leaving the race today was former French national champion Nacer Bouhanni of FDJ, who had been struggling with gastroenteritis earlier in the Tour and was involved in the crash just before the finish line on Stage 5 in Marseille yesterday, won by Cavendish.
Bouhanni, who injured his left hip in that chute, started today’s stage but was clearly struggling and spent almost the whole time off the back, riding alone, until finally calling it a day with 90km still to go.
Astana’s Frederik Kessiakoff also abandoned after being involved in a crash, and the Kazakh team's day would get even worse when Janez Brajkovič had a chute late on and will take no further part in the race.
With Andrey Kashechkin also previously having abandoned, Jakob Fuglsang now has just five team mates to support his overall campaign, and will particularly miss Kessiakoff and Brajkovič's presence in the mountains.
One of the other riders nursing an injury picked up earlier in the race – Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who has a fractured pelvis – took his turn driving the pace at the front of the bunch, the team perhaps looking to take advantage of Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez being involved in a crash, though the Spaniard would rejoin the peloton shortly afterwards.
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.