German champion Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won stage six of the 2013 Tour de France in a sprint finish in Montpellier, while Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEDGE) became the first South African ever to wear the yellow jersey, after finishing faster than team-mate Simon Gerrans.
After Greipel’s Lotto-Belisol team mate Jurgen van den Broeck was forced to abandon overnight, a victim of the big crash at the end of yesterday’s stage, the team timed their sprint train to perfection to deliver their man to victory.
The peloton drove a fast pace throughout and Greipel outsprinted Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) to take his first stage victory of this year’s Tour.
Cavendish (crash) and Sagan (mechanical) had earlier fallen behind and had to expend precious energy to rejoin the bunch, leaving Greipel with more in reserve for the final sprint.
Greipel said: “I was really nervous – I told the guys to wait as long as possible and then everybody to stay together.
“We had the front with two kilometres to go and everyone can see we have some power.
“After Jurgen van den Broeck abandoned we just tried to stay focused. I am really proud of this team, that they support me and believe in me.”
Meanwhile, behind the sprinters, Impey took the maillot jaune after finishing five seconds ahead of team-mate Gerrans after the peloton split in the final sprint.
Earlier, Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) had escaped as soon as Christian Prudhomme waved the start flag, but the Spaniard was not joined by any other riders and was caught after 40km.
In hot conditions, with a strong crosswind, the peloton – also missing Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) after his overnight withdrawal – remained as one for much of the stage.
The intermediate sprint, which was slightly uphill with the summit of the category four Col de la Vayede just five kilometres away, was contested but was not frantic.
Once again Greipel crossed it first, with Cavendish second and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Sagan third and fourth respectively.
Team Sky’s Kanstantsin Siutsou took the solitary climbing point on offer moments later but, at the back of the peloton, Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) was dropped as he struggled with stomach problems.
Bouhanni abandoned to become the sixth person to leave this year’s Tour and Kesiakoff followed suit shortly afterwards to leave the Kazak team with just seven riders.
The peloton continued to drive a fast pace on the flat terrain, touching 60km/h as they passed the feed zone – far too quick for the riders to collect their musettes, prompting a slight reprieve as riders dropped back to the team cars for sustenance.
Several teams tried to slow the pace Orica-GreenEDGE were setting but the Australian team continued to ride at speed.
Sagan was forced to drop back after suffering a mechanical, and was still unhappy with his bike after both wheels were changed, but rejoined the bunch.
Meanwhile, as a number of roundabouts thinned the peloton, Cavendish crashed and found himself 40 seconds back with his British national champion jersey badly torn.
However, the Manx Missile propelled himself through the cars, including bunny-hopping across a roundabout with vehicles inches beside him, to rejoin the bunch with 30km to go.
The peloton continued to push a quick pace, setting themselves up for a bunch sprint in Montpellier with Saxo-Tinkoff and Omega Pharma-Quickstep leading the bunch into the final 10km.
A crash at the back saw Janez Brajkovic (Astana) hit the deck hard, losing a significant amount of time in the process, while the pace of the peloton dropped a number of riders off the back.
At the front Lotto-Belisol came forward to set Greipel up for the final sprint, and the 30-year-old comfortably outpaced his rivals to take the victory.
Impey surged ahead of Gerrans in the final sprint, meanwhile, meaning he was given a time five seconds faster than the yellow jersey holder.
However, while Gerrans had been unhappy with his team-mate the previous day for attacking late on, the South African’s decision to leave his leader proved crucial as Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) would otherwise have claimed the overall lead.
Tour de France 2013 – stage six – result
1 André Greipel (GER) Lotto-Belisol – 3:59:02 hours
2 Peter Sagan (SVK) Cannondale – same time
3 Marcel Kittel (GER) Argos-Shimano
4 Mark Cavendish (GBR) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
5 Juan Jose Lobato (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi
6 Alexander Kristoff (NOR) Katusha
7 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (ESP) Movistar
8 Danny van Poppel (NED) Vacansoleil-DCM
9 Roberto Ferrari (ITA) Lampre-Merida
10 Samuel Dumoulin (FRA) Ag2r-La Mondiale
1 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEDGE – 22:18:17 hours
2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) Sky Procycling +3″
3 Simon Gerrans (AUS) Orica-GreenEDGE +5″
4 Michael Albasini (SWI) Orica-GreenEDGE – same time
5 Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +6″
6 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Omega Pharma-Quickstep – same time
7 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky Procycling +8″
8 Richie Porte (AUS) Sky Procycling same time
9 Nicolas Roche (IRL) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +14″
10 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Team Saxo-Tinkoff – same time