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The sixth stage is the final chance for the sprinters before the climbing starts.
Stage six is another long flat stage, just pefect for a long breakaway and a mass sprint. It is also the last chance for the sprinters at the moment, as the climbing starts tomorrow.
The stage started with a 7.7km neutralized section, and we should have the sharp start momentarily.
We can't help feeling this is a bad sign. We have already had the first crash of the day in the neutralized section, with Richie Porte (SKY) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Beilsol) making pavement contact.
Check out @cyclingthealps preview of stage 6 from Epernay to Metz. Explore the route on a Google Map, with a Google Earth Tour or cycle it virtually! Watch profiles, Street View tours, detailed Google Earth tours and a lot more of each climb.
Already more than 6km into the stage, and no break group, tsk tsk.
We have our first attack, from Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp).
Three riders have given chase and caught up with him. They now have a 30 second gap. Let's see if we can get some names for you.
And here we go: Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Romain Zingle (Cofidis), David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) and Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank).
Here is the Cyclingnews preview for today's stage, including Chris Boardman's analysis of what to expect.
RadioShack is going to have keep a close eye on this group. Malacarne is only 3:34 down on yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara.
Looks like Malacarne is going to be in virtual yellow any minute now. The gap has jumped already to 3:20.
And we also hear that there is a light rain shower at the moment. All in all it is supposed to stay dry today -- except, of course, for these showers every now and then.
There is one obstacle in the way, today, the Category 4 Cote de Bruxieres at km 145. It is a 2.7km long climb with an average gradient of 3.8%.
The stage started in Epernay, which is hosting its fourth Tour stage. The city is best known for its champagne, which we find to be a lovely idea.
The gap seems to have settled in at the four minute mark.
Today's finish is in Metz, which has hosted 40 prevous stages.
194 riders finished the stage yesterday, and all were at the start in Epernay this morning.
Our top ten in GC is staying pretty stable. Here they are again:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 24:45:32
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 0:00:11
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:17
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Sharp
10 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:19
And yet another crash! Those involved include Lieuwe Westra, Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Alejandro Valverde, Kris Boeckmans and Andre Greipel. Hope everyone is ok.
That crash has naturally slowed the peloton down a bit, while everyone picks themselves up, dusts themselves off and gets going again. That means the gap has now gone all the way up to 5:30.
The last-ranked rider, by the way, is Brice Feillu of Saur-Sojasun, who is already 39:10 down.
The gap has now gone up to 6:20, so we expect the peloton to start getting serious about the chase.
We also hear that Jean-Christophe Peraud and Robert Gesink also were involved in that crash, but luckily, everyone is said to be back up and going again.
The race for the green jersey got a bit closer yesterday when Peter Sagan (Liquigas) finished outside of the points. He now leads Orica-GreenEdge's Matt Goss by 18 points.
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 155 pts
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 137
3 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 132
4 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 119
5 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 91
6 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 88
7 Tom Veelers (Ned) Argos-Shimano 76
8 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 74
9 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team 55
10 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 46
There is every reason to believe that Michael Morkov will hang on to his polka-dots again today.
1 Michael Morkov (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 9 pts
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 2
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 2
4 Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Saur - Sojasun 2
5 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 2
6 Pablo Urtasun Perez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 1
7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan 1
8 Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 1
Best young rider is still Tejay Van Garderen of BMC, ahead of Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen.
1 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 24:45:42
2 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 0:00:01
3 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 0:00:12
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:13
5 Wouter Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:14
6 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 0:00:37
7 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:43
8 Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:51
9 Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan 0:01:28
10 Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:02:30
Sky continues to be best team, with a narrow lead.
1 Sky Procycling 74:17:10
2 RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:04
3 BMC Racing Team 0:00:06
4 Omega Pharma-Quickstep 0:00:13
5 Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:29
6 Katusha Team 0:00:38
7 Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:50
8 Astana Pro Team 0:00:52
9 Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:01
10 Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:01:51
Erik Zabel, an outstanding Tour sprinter in his time, and now with Katusha, is picking Greipel to "three-peat" today.
The german website Radsport-news.com says that Greipel has injured his shoulder in that early crash, but is continuing on. We are seeing if we can find out more.
And we now have live pictures for the first time. It looks damp. With 132km to go, the gap is 6:10.
Denis Menchov of Katusha has a new steed for the time trial: the Canyon Speedmax CF Evo. Our Tech wizard James Huang got a look at it and tellls us about this “German stealth fighter”.
Cancellara once again very far back in the field. And the gap is now up to 6:48.
Gesink is back at his team car, and is rubbing his left thigh. We hope it is not an injury.
Perhaps it was his bike which was suffering, as he gets two new tires.
Things just aren't going well for Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) at this year's Tour de France – and that is putting it mildly. He crashed yet again yesterday, and we understand he tried to pay a visit to the Argos-Shimano bus after the race to discuss the situation.
Gesink now has a teammate to help him back up to the front, but it looks like they have a long way to go.
They have caught the field now, at least the taile end of it.
Let's look at these four riders in the break group. Malacarne is 24, and turned pro with QuickStep in 2009. He remained with them until joining Europcar this year. Last year he won the mountains classification at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Thomas Voeckler pulls off his helmet, puts on a cloth cap, and then the helmet on top of that.
Zingle, 25, is a Belgian rider with Cofidis. He started his career with Verandas Willem's, and has now been with the French team since 2010.
The Olympics are coming up shortly after the Tour. France is the next nation to have named its cycling team. Check it out here.
Zabriskie is 33, and has been a pro since 1999. He has ridden for 7-UP/Colorado Cyclist, US Postal, CAS and Slipstream, the latter since 2008. He is a seven-time US national time trial champion, and has won two Tour de France stages in his career, an individual time trial and a team time trial.
Thomas Voeckler is back amongst the team cars, with two teammates. He is one of last year's heroes of the Tour, but this year he is struggling. His knee hurts and is simply not getting better.
It looks as if the gap is coming down slowly. It is 5:39 as the peloton enters the feed zone.
It is the usual picture at the head of the field: RadioShack, followed by Lotto and Orica-GreenEdge.
The fourth rider in the group is Karsten Kroon, a Dutchman riding for a Danish team. He is the oldest of this group at 36. In the past he has ridden for Rabobank (1997-2005), CSC (2006-2009), BMC (2010-2011) and now Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank. He has a number of top ten results in Spring Classics, and won a Tour stage in 2002.
Orica-GreenEdge, Lampre and Lotto now at the head of things.
The gap has now dropped under five minutes.
Would Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) like to win the Tour one day? Yes. Does he think he will? No. “It is a dream and not a goal,” he said.
Argos-Shimano now at the head of the case. At the other end of the field, Tyler Farrar is sporting great amounts of gauze and adhesive tape.
There was a lot of expectation that yesterday's stage would bring the showdown of Peter Sagan (Liquigas) agains the top pure sprinters, but it didn't happen. Once again, a crash near the end changed everything, and Sagan was one of those who hit the grounds. He talks about it here.
Cancellara and Jens Voigt take the time for a little chat.
Somewhere along the line we have lost another minute. The gap is now 3:55.
Hedwig is going to step in for a few minutes.
Hello readers, Susan is taking a short break from the action - if we can call it action at the moment. These long and flat sprint stages in the Tour are a real challenge for us reporters, too!
Eurosport interviewed André Greipel at the start today, he's looking for a third consecutive stage win in Metz later on. The German figured another breakaway would go for it today, and that another really tight finish (like yesterday) could be in the making.
"Orica and us are the only teams controlling the race for the sprint, so it doesn't make it any easier to catch the break in time," Greipel commented.
The break has just passed the intermediate sprint in Saint-Mihiel, and Kroon was the only one to actually sprint, taking the 20 points.
Back in the bunch, it's Matt Goss (Orica) who wins the remaining 11 points in front of world champion Mark Cavendish (Sky) and green jersey wearer Peter Sagan (Liquigas).
Earlier in the stage, Lotto leader Greipel had crashed. His teammate Francis de Greefe, the two Spaniards José Ivan Gutierrez und Alejandro Valverde (both Movistar), Dutchman Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Lieuwe Westra and Kris Boeckmans (both Vacansoleil-DCM) also went down.
Valverde had some treatment at the race doctor's car after that, but we don't know the extent of the injuries. All riders continued the race.
The riders now tackle the day's only categorised climb, the Cat. 4 Côte de Buxières. It's a narrow road through a forest proected as national park.
The road is a bit wet from an earlier shower, but the sun is out now again. It's not a difficult ascent but most riders get out of the saddle from time to time.
At the top of the climb, where the break is now, spectators abound to cheer them on.
Liquigas-Cannondale’s two leaders will aim to be near the front of the peloton in the finale today, albeit for different reasons. “I’ll be up front looking to stay out of trouble and Peter will be up there looking to win the stage,” Vincenzo Nibali told Cyclingnews at the start in Epernay this morning, although he noted that the Slovak would face stiff competition in Metz.
“Today is a difficult sprint for him because it’s one that’s suited to the pure sprinters, but he’ll still try and do well and get some points for the green jersey.”
Thanks Hedi, I needed a little break.
So did the field, apparently. A little crash in the middle of the field at the top of the climb and nearly everyone came to a standstill.
Several Lotto riders were involved, including Marcel Sieberg and Andre Griepel, and we saw some Rabobank jerseys as well.
The gap keeps falling, as expected. Now at only 1:16, with 53km to go.
Zabriskie is on a super bike today, and of course Cyclingnews had a look at it. Take a look at this!
The field has really picked up its pace now. And Jens Voigt is back at the team car filling up on bidons to carry backup to the front.
No less than four AG2R riders are now working to bring their captain back up to the front of things.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) has provided the lion’s share of the colour in an otherwise grey opening week, and after his boisterous victory celebrations at Seraing and Bolougne-sur-Mer, the Slovak added to his repertoire by starting stage 6 with a bell attached to his handlebars.
“The motorbikes are always beeping and looking for space here at the Tour, so now I can do it myself,” Sagan explained to reporters at the start, before setting off for Metz with the bell sitting incongruously alongside his power-meter. Whether it remains aboard for the whole stage remains to be seen.
Matt Goss is still looking for his first win here, and came oh-so-close yesterday. He is still on the hunt for both stage wins and the green jersey.
The gap is under a minute now. Looks like the field will catch the group a lot earlier today than they did yesterday!
Katusha is moving up towards the front. No doubt Oscar Freire has his eye on the finale today.
Greipel and Sieberg are at the end of the field. Plenty of time for them to move up.
BMC is also showing up at the front now.
So, just what did happen yesterday – if you can't remember, you can watch the shortened version of the stage here, at our video highlights of stage 5.
Don't expect to see Farrar in the sprint today. Garmin DS Bingen Fernandez told Cyclingnews before the start, “Three days and three crashes. They were big crashes as well, not small ones. His morale is not great at the moment. The stages this week were perfect for Tyler and he’s tried to go for it three times and crashed three times. He’s feeling pretty sore now and we’ll see how he is during the day. But we're not expecting him to contest the sprint today.”
It is raining on the field again, and the road is quite wet. We hear, though, that it is dry at the finish, though.
Andre Greipel has taken two stages in two days, so why not three in a row? The big German has his eye on the hat trick, if we can borrow a phrase from another sport.
Here is the CN poll as to today's winner: Peter is choosing Cavendish, but Hedwig and I are both going for Griepel.
Well, we can eilminate two sprinters from today's finale. Both Oscar Freire and Tyler Farrar have just officially dropped off the back of the field.
Nor are they alone.
The four leaders are still looking strong, as they approach the 25km marker. But the gap is still at about 45 seconds.
A huge crash n the field, bikes and riders everywhere.
Petacchi and Scarponi were amongst those involved. It was about the middle of the field. The first half of the peloton has continued on, but for now the road behind them is blocked.
Fränk Schleck also caught in the crash.
With the road blocked like this, it will take time for the teams to get up and provide help to their riders. But Schleck and others are now underway again, although they have lost much time.
We think everyone is up and moving again, but are not sure. No, we see a at least one, a Lotto rider down, ls another one we can't recognize.
Hesjedal was also involved and is only now going again, with injuries. He too will lose his good placing.
There are 3 or 4 riders down, we think one is Johan van Summeren.
Up front, things are carrying on as normal. The gap is 31 seconds and Orica GreenEdge is working hard.
Many many groups of riders now on the road, all hoping desperately to catch up. Or can we say that Hesjedal and Schleck have just lost all chances to win this Tour?
Schleck visits the team car for flying bike repairs and and then goes to the race doctor.
Meanwhile, the four leaders' time is nearly up, with the gap at 15 seconds.
The first group behind the four leaders is still fairly large, we would say 60 to 70?
Bauke Mollema of Rabobank amongst those who crashed.
Wiggins and KLöden both in the first group. We don't know about the sprinters yet.
The Schleck group is at 2:35. Gesink has also dropped back.
Cavendish and Boasson Hagen were caught up in the crash and are working their way up. Wout Poels of Vacansoleil has had to abandon. We also hear that Tom Danielson of Garmin was involved and may abandon as well.
We do know that Goss and almost all the Orica GreenEdge team is in the first large group, so he has probably just jumped to favourite to win today. We don't know where Greipel is.
It is now confirmed that Danielson has abandoned.
The gap is still at 15 seconds, with the field thundering on.
We now hear that Hesedal is seven minutes back.
The Schleck group, with about 20 riders is giving furious chase, now at 1:57.
Much of BMC, including Evans, is in the first group, as is Sagan.
Mikel Astarloza of Euskaltel has also abandoned.
Danilo Hondo and Alessandro Petacchi now leading the field. And we do hear that Greipel is in this group after all.
The Lotto train has taken command. But the four escapees still have a tiny gap.
BMC moves up to the lead. Not to set up a sprint, but to protect Evans.
with just over 2.5km to go, Zabriskie takes off out of the lead group. The others are caught.
"Z" is caught wih 1.3km to go.
Lotto leads the way under the flamme rouge. They all survive the final cuve.
With 150 m to go, Greipel takes off. But at the very last second, Sagan comes up on his left and takes the win!
It wasn't as close as thought. And now it looks as if Greipel's chain broke at the very end.
The Schleck group crosses the line finally at about 2:09.
Third place went to Matt Goss.
Two Rabobank riders now near the finish line: Robert Gesink is one of them, and he has lost over three and half minutes.
It was not Greipel who had the chain problem, but Marco Marcato of Vacansoleil.
Surprisingly, it looks as if tehre are no changes in the top ten GC. And now Mark Cavendish comes to the finish line, at about 6 minutes.
There was, of course, one change in the GC. Ryder Hesjedal has dropped out of the top ten. Andreas Klöden moves up to ninth, and Maxime Monfort is now tenth.
The top ten for today's stage:
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 4:37:00
2 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team
3 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
4 Kenny Robert Van Hummel (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
5 Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
6 Greg Henderson (NZl) Lotto Belisol Team
7 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
8 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha Team
9 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
10 Brett Lancaster (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 0:00:04
And our new GC top ten:
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 29:22:36
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
4 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
5 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:17
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
8 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:19
9 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan
10 Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:22
It is now also raining in Metz. It probably matches the mood of many riders.
We are sorry to see the race affected this way by the crashes, but as the riders themselves have pointed out, that is part of the sport.
Let's hope that we don't have these problems in the mountains this weekend!
It is now over twelve and a half minutes since Sagan crossed the finish line, and groups of riders are siltl coming in.
Thanks for reading along today and be sure to join us again tomorrow!