Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) accelerated to victory on the uphill finish of stage six in Le Havre but it was a bittersweet moment for his team as Tony Martin, in the yellow jersey, crashed on the run-in and had to be helped across the finish line, before abandoning the race with a broken collarbone.
Stybar seized the initiative during a messy final uphill sprint, sprinting hard on the steepest section to earn a gap which he held until the line.
It meant, in the end, a convincing win but joy quickly turned to worry as they saw Martin being helped over the line with three team-mates for company and his left arm in obvious pain.
As the crash was in the final three kilometres, Martin initially remained the GC leader but it was a day of mixed fortunes for the Belgian super team, with the German forced to quit the race after finishing the stage, putting Team Sky’s Chris Froome back in the yellow jersey.
Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis), Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) and the ever-aggressive Perrig Quemeneur (Europcar) bolted clear of the bunch from the flag to form the day’s break.
After the stress of the preceding stages, the peloton was happy to let the group go on a sunny, calm day and their lead was well in excess of ten minutes at one point.
Teklehaimanot beat Vanbilsen to both of the early King of the Mountains points, to pull level with polka dot jersey leader Joaquim Rodriguez, but the stage otherwise proceeded in a much more sedate manner.
The break was still out when the intermediate sprint approached, albeit with a much-reduced advantage to reduce their hopes of taking the final climbing points.
In the bunch, Bryan Coquard was led out for the intermediate sprint, but John Degenkolb showed he is in good shape by beating him to the line, with Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish all following the duo across.
Having led Coquard out for the sprint, Thomas Voeckler then dropped the hammer in a bid to bridge across to the three leaders, which proved to be short-lived.
Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing) came to grief on a soft road barrier, not spotting it as he bunny-hopped over some road furniture but the chase otherwise proceeded without any grief.
Teklehaimanot bagged the final mountain point on the last climb, after much discussion with his fellow breakaway riders, to ensure he would wear the polka dot jersey on stage six.
Vanbilsen attacked the other two shortly afterwards, to ensure he would be the last man up the road, but the Cofidis man’s brave effort ended with three kilometres remaining.
Etixx-QuickStep and Giant-Alpecin had men on the front as they tackled the sweeping left-hand bend, both Coquard and Sagan were sat in their wheels.
The Belgian team were on the front as the climbing began but Julien Simon and Geoffrey Soupe came forward for Cofidis to kick-start the attacking.
A big crash disrupted the run-in though, with Martin going down as he fought for position and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) hitting the deck in the incident.
Froome (Team Sky) was forced to unclip, but stayed upright while several riders got held up further back.
As it was inside the final three kilometres, there was no rush to remount with the riders taking their time to get going again and roll in.
Back up the road Stybar had attacked, meanwhile, quickly earning a gap on the ascent with the sprinters seemingly unwilling to attack.
Sagan refused to lead anybody out, and as such weaved across the road behind the Czech ace – the hesistation allowing Stybar to roll in, punching the air and taking the crowd’s plaudits.
Tour de France 2015: stage six – result (provisional)
1) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Etixx-QuickStep – 4.53.46hrs
2) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Tinkoff-Saxo – ST
3) Bryan Coquard (FRA) – Team Europcar
4) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Alpecin
5) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing
6) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Soudal
7) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – MTN-Qhubeka
8) Davide Cimolai (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
9) Julien Simon (FRA) – Cofidis
10) Gorka Izagirre (ESP) – Movistar
1) Tony Martin (GER) – Etixx-QuickStep – 17.19.26hrs (ABANDONED POST-STAGE)
2) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +12” (NEW RACE LEADER)
3) Tejay van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +25”
4) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Tinkoff-Saxo +27”
5) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Soudal +38”
6) Greg van Avermaet (BEL) – BMC Racing +40”
7) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Etixx-QuickStep +46”
8) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +48”
9) Zdenek Stybar (CZE) – Etixx-QuickStep +1.04
10) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +1.15