Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) opened his 2013 Tour de France account on Wednesday and he's the likely favourite heading into today's sixth stage to Montpellier but while a sprinter should prevail after the 176.5kms, it's the battle of survival in between which could be crucial for the GC contenders.
According to meteorologists, the peloton can expect strong cross-winds, including a northerly Mistral with gusts up to 60/70km/h between km 50 and km 140. That augers for the peloton to be in a constant fight for position and as they well-know, not everyone can be up front and out of danger.
Cavendish was victorious the last time the Tour visited Montpellier. In 2011, he claimed his fourth stage of that race and tightened his grip on the green jersey. His 2009 victory in nearby La Grande Motte could prove to be more significant, though, as that stage came from the same direction as today's. That stage to La Grande Motte will probably still be fresh in the mind of anyone who was there that day, as an internal battle within Astana went into overdrive.
The early break was caught by a chase group of 28 riders which had fought clear of the main peloton, buffeted by strong winds. Among that group was maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara, the entire Columbia-HTC line-up and Lance Armstrong with teammates Yaroslav Popovych and Haimar Zubeldia in support. Meantime GC contenders Alberto Contador, Levi Leiphimer, Cadel Evans, Carlos Sastre and the Schlecks would finish the race some 41 seconds in arrears.
Of course, Contador eventually fought back and prevailed to win his second Tour de France, but in 2013 with Evans (BMC) for example already trailing Chris Froome (Sky) and Contador by 23 and 17 seconds respectively, the Australian for one will be no doubt be keeping a watchful eye on proceedings at the front of the bunch.
As for the sprinters on Thursday, two of Cavendish's main rivals Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) and Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) were both victims of bad luck on Stage 5 so they will be eager to put things right. Cavendish quipped following his win yesterday that he was glad to see Orica GreenEdge on the front because they "hardly ever do any work" and with Simon Gerrans' overall lead unchallenged on the stage, the Manxman will surely be pleased to have the Australian team spearheading the peloton for the second day in a row. As was the case on Stage 5, depending on the finishing position of Gerrans and his two teammates Daryl Impey and Michael Albasini who are on the same time as the Australian, the overall lead could change hands within Orica GreenEdge. With that in mind, it's worth noting that South African Robbie Hunter won a stage to Montpellier in 2007 and if the stars align accordingly, Impey could become the first African rider to wear the yellow jersey.
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