Tour de France - Greipel wins stage six in Reims

Germany's Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol) ended compatriot Marcel Kittel's hot run in the Tour de France with an emphatic sprint victory in stage six at Reims.

Tour de France - Greipel wins stage six in Reims

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Lotto-Belisol team rider Andre Greipel of Germany celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the 194 km sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race from Arras to Reims (Reuters)

The German national champion powered past Norway's Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2R-La Mondiale) after triple stage winner Kittel (Giant Shimano) was distanced inside the final kilometre of the sodden 194km stage from Arras.

Even rumours (later dispelled) that Kittel had punctured did not take the smile off Greipel's face, the 31-year-old sprinter securing his sixth career win on the Tour and his first major scalp since returning from surgery on a broken collarbone earlier in the season.

"It was a really nervous day today and I'm really happy with my team who kept me near the front - particularly near the end with all those roundabouts," said Greipel. "I lost a lot of energy positioning myself but with two-hundred-and-fifty metres to go I just went for it."

Greipel denied that he has lost confidence following Kittel's run of three stage wins and his own succession of low finishes in the bunch sprints. "Yes, there was a lot of pressure on us but we finally got out win," he said. "We didn't panic and it was a deserved win."

With Mark Cavendish out of the race, Omega Pharma-Quick Step looked to employ different tactics in the finale as Polish youngster Michal Kwiatkowski - the white jersey - burst clear of the pack inside the final kilometre.

Kwiatkowski opened up a sizeable gap before being reeled in by Europcar's Kevin Reza, who believed he had team-mate Bryan Coquard on his wheel. When Reza slowed with 300m remaining the bunch sprint ensued and Greipel took his cue to dance on the pedals by turning those trademark ham thighs.

Milan-San Remo winner Kristoff was forced to settle for second place with Dumoulin, Australia's Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Slovakia's Peter Sagan (Cannondale) completing the top five.

Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) finished safely in the pack to retain his two-second lead over team-mate Jakob Fuglsang in the overall standings. The yellow jersey praised his Astana team for keeping him safe from a succession of crashes and crosswinds that wrecked havoc on the peloton.

What had been a rather routine and transitional day in the saddle was turned on its head by a spate of crashes either side of the intermediate sprint at Pinon as the pack chased down a four-man break that rolled along a couple of minute ahead.

Riding fast on the sweeping descent of the first of two category four climbs, the peloton was split by a pile-up that saw Spaniard Xabier Zandio (Team Sky) abandon with a suspected broken collarbone along with the Russian Egor Silin of Katusha. French national champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ) was one of a dozen riders also involved.

Moments after Sagan picked up the maximum remaining points at the intermediate sprint to consolidate his lead in the green jersey competition the Slovakian lost control on the slippery tarmac. Sagan was receiving treatment on his left arm and leg from the medical car when another pile-up ensued on the long, exposed ridge of Chemin des Dames.

Frenchmen Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2R-La Mondiale) hit the deck with a cluster of riders, with Spaniard Jesus Hernandez - a team-mate of Alberto Contador at Tinkoff-Saxo - becoming another casualty of the race on a day which also saw Argentina's Max Richeze (Lampre) fail to take to the start.

Crosswinds and some fierce pace-setting my Omega Pharma-Quick Step created more splits in the peloton, with Sagan, Demare and a raft of other riders who had been caught up in the crashes, riding a minute off the pace. With the breakaway's lead reeled into less than a minute, the pace slowed and Sagan was allowed to fight back on before the run-in to the finish.

Richie Porte - elevated to Team Sky's protected rider following the withdrawal of defending champion Chris Froome during stage five - described the day's racing as both "stressful" and "horrible". But after finishing safely in the pack, the Australian promised fans that Sky were "here to fight" despite another hefty setback in the loss of Zandio.

Spain's Alberto Contador also lost a key Spanish lieutenant after Hernandez crashed and suffered concussion. "It's very hard for me. I had a lot of confidence in him and I'm hoping he'll be ready for the Vuelta," he said.

The Tour de France commemorated the centenary of World War One with the peloton's suiveurs (followers) invited to wear a 'Bleuet de France' cornflower in memory of the soldiers who died during the 1914-18 war.

The white jersey for the best Under-25 rider was also emblazoned with a Bleuet de France.

The peloton also paid tribute to past Tour riders, including winners Francois Faber, Oscar Lapize and Lucien Petit Breton, who died during the war.

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FOUR-MAN BREAK: Dutchman Tom Leezer (Belkin), Spaniard Luis Mate (Cofidis) and Frenchmen Jerome Pineau (IAM Cycling) and Arnaud Gerard (Bretagne-Seche) formed the day's main break shortly after the start in Arras, quickly building up a maximum lead of over four minutes before Giant Shimano started to lead the chase.

Already part of the breakaway in Tuesday's fourth stage, Mate crested the summit of both Cat.4 climbs of the day to protect the polka dot jersey of his team-mate Cyril Lemoine. The escapees saw their lead whittled down to just 35 seconds following the intermediate sprint before stretching out the gap back above the minute mark.

But there was only ever one script for the day - a mass bunch sprint with a German winner - and the plucky riders were swept up by the peleton inside the final 15km. Mate and Peraud persisted out in front for a few futile kilometres before the Cofidis man finally threw in the towel with 10km remaining - just as a split in the peloton saw French national champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ) distanced with around 30 other riders.

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RIDER OF THE DAY: We all thought it would be a German sprinter who took the win - and credit must go to Andre Greipel for making sure it was not the one who initially came to mind.

DAY TO FORGET: Both Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo lost key men in Zandio and Hernandez while Demare was victim once again to a heavy fall. But perhaps Marcel Kittel will have the biggest regrets after being deprived of popping the Champagne corks in Reims duo to an inopportune puncture in the final kilometre. Although it later emerged that the 26-year-old didn't flat - he simply had nothing left in the tank after a heavy crash the day before.

COMING UP: Friday's 234.5km stage 7 from Epernay to Nancy is another pan-flat one but has a couple of Cat.4 climbs clustered towards the finish which may at least see a shake up between the tactics of the teams of the sprinters.

PLAT DU JOUR: Epernay is home to some of the area's finest Champagne houses - such as Pol Roger - and so many riders could well be tempted to do a Jacques Anquetil and fill up their bidons with bubbly. As for Nancy, it's the home of macarons and madeleines - so take your pick of fancy cakes to follow your slice of Quiche Lorraine.

STAGE IN A SENTENCE: No surprise as a German sprinter pops the Champagne corks in Reims - but not the one we all thought would win.

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