Edvald Boasson-Hagen earned Team Sky their first Tour de France stage win by outsprinting Milan-San Remo winner Matt Goss and world champion Thor Hushovd in Lisieux.
Boasson-Hagen’s solo bid for the line faltered on stage five but the Norwegian made no mistake on Thursday’s uphill finish.
Geraint Thomas, fifth on Wednesday and wearing the white jersey for best young rider, moved to the front of the bunch under the flamme rounge and the Brit provided the perfect platform for Boasson-Hagen to outlast Goss and Hushovd, who is yet to finish outside the top 10 on a stage and remains in the yellow jersey.
Johnny Hoogerland, Lieuwe Westra, Adriano Malori, Anthony Roux and Leonardo Duque formed the day’s break with Roux earning maximum points from the intermediate sprint, while Hoogerland finished the day at the top of the Kind of the Mountains classification and in the polka dot jersey.
Mark Cavendish claimed his 16th Tour de France stage win on Wednesday, opening his 2011 account in fine style, to rise to ninth in the all-time list.
And Cavendish showed his strength in the intermediate sprint, winning the bunch gallop to add another 10 points to his green jersey campaign.
But the Manx Missile, who admitted stage five’s late dash for the line had left him in the red, was caught on the wrong side of a split at the rear peloton with 35km remaining before fighting back with leadout man Mark Renshaw to leave Goss as HTC’s protected rider.
Italian time trial champion Malori was the final breakaway rider to resist the incoming peloton before finally being caught with 3km remaining.
Heavy showers made for a nervous bunch, particularly with both the general classification contenders and sprinters’ teams fighting for position.
Three categorised climbs over the course of the 226.5km stage, the longest of the Tour, a punchy ascent to the basilica in Lisieux just one kilometre before the finish and a technical run-in made for a select group to contest the final sprint.
Team Sky’s Ben Swift, making his Tour debut, led Thomas and Boasson-Hagen up the final ascent, averaging seven per cent over more than a kilometre.
That left Olympic team pursuit gold medallist Thomas to take to the front and the Welshman released Boasson-Hagen with 500m to go.
The 24-year-old all-rounder has long been touted as a future star but has seen his season derailed first by a winter Achilles problem before a bout of Shingles threatened the Norwegian’s Tour participation.
But the 2009 Tour of Britain winner proved he is in the form of his life by edging out Goss and Hushovd to earn his first individual Grand Tour stage victory and cap a fine day for Team Sky with Ian Stannard also winning stage five of the Tour of Austria.
1. Edvald Boasson-Hagen (NOR/Team Sky) – 5h 13m 37s
2. Matt Goss (AUS/HTC-Highroad) – same time
3. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo)
4. Romain Feillu (FRA/Vacansoleil-DCM)
5. Jose Joaquin Rojas (SPA/Movistar)
6. Arthur Vichot (FRA/FDJ)
7. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/Omega Pharma-Lotto)
8. Gerald Ciolek (GER/Quick-Step)
9. Marco Marcato (ITA/Vacansoleil-DCM)
10. Arnold Jeannesson (FRA/FDJ)
16. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Team Sky) – same time
47. David Millar (GBR/Garmin-Cervelo)
56. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/Team Sky)
101. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC-Highroad) +1′ 44″
106. Ben Swift (GBR/Team Sky) – same time
1. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo) 22h 50m 34s
2. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC) +1″
3. Frank Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) +4″
4. David Millar (GBR/Garmin-Cervelo) +8″
5. Andreas Kloden (AUS/Radioshack) +10″
6. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/Team Sky) same time
7. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Team Sky) +12″
8. Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR/Team Sky) same time
9. Andy Schleck (LUX/Leopard-Trek) same time
10. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/Leopard-Trek) same time
62. Ben Swift (GBR/Team Sky) +3′ 50′
80. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC-Highroad) +6′ 06″
1. Philippe Gilbert (BEL/Omega Pharma-Lotto) – 144 points
2. Jose Joaquin Rojas (SPA/Movistar) – 143 pts
3. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Garmin-Cervelo) – 112 pts
4. Cadel Evans (AUS/BMC Racing) – 98 pts
5. Mark Cavendish (GBR/HTC-Highroad) – 94 pts