Germany’s Tour de France sprint supremacy continued in Champagne country yesterday as Andre Greipel triumphed in Reims.
The 194-kilometre sixth stage from Arras took place on wet roads, with crashes accounting for a number of riders.
The Giant-Shimano team of Marcel Kittel were conspicuous by their absence in the closing stages until it emerged the winner of stages one, three and four had a problem and would not contend the sprint.
It was Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), left out of position in the first three sprints of the Tour, who benefited, the German champion finishing arms aloft for the sixth Tour stage win of his career.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was second, with Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r La Mondiale) third, while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished safely in the pack to retain the race leader’s yellow jersey he claimed on stage two in Sheffield.
Greipel said: “First of all it was a really nervous day. We had to stay all the time in front. I had a good position all the time. At the end maybe it was not a leadout train, but with all the roundabouts it was not possible.
“I had a good wheel with Mark Renshaw. With 250 metres to go I just said to myself I go full now. Whatever will happen will happen.
“There was a lot of pressure on us. Finally we have it.
“The confidence was always there. Okay it was not easy. We just said to ourselves we’ll stay calm and go for it.”
After a chaotic and epic day over the cobbles of stage five which accounted for defending champion Chris Froome, there were further victims of crashes yesterday.
Team Sky’s problems continued as Spaniard Xabier Zandio joined Froome in exiting the Tour with a suspected broken collarbone. Froome abandoned on Wednesday’s fifth stage after the pain caused by three crashes in two days, with Zandio following after being caught up in a crash after 79km.
It means Richie Porte, who inherited the leadership of Team Sky from Froome, now has just six team-mates to call upon with the race less than a week old.
Egor Silin (Katusha) also quit after the large crash, which also caught up Arnaud Demare (FDJ), while Jesus Hernandez (Tinkoff-Saxo), a key mountain domestique for Alberto Contador, abandoned soon afterwards.
Race leader Nibali called a temporary truce as the peloton slowed to allow those riders embroiled in the crash who were able to continue to rejoin the main bunch.
The accidents happened as the speed was increasing in preparation for the intermediate sprint. The day’s four-man breakaway of Jerome Pineau (IAM Cycling), Thomas Leezer (Belkin), Luis Mate (Cofidis) and Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne-Seche Environnemen) led by around one minute 30 seconds with 65km to go.
Pineau and Mate tried to prolong the breakaway as their fellow escapees were swept up with 19km remaining, but their forlorn effort did not last long.
The sprinters’ teams were to the fore in the final 10km, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep working on the front for Mark Renshaw in the absence of Mark Cavendish (shoulder).
There were nine roundabouts in the final 5km, but the road was drying out after the wet start.
Cannondale, Europcar and Katusha were prominent in the finale, with some interlopers, as Kittel dropped back with an apparent problem.