Greipel claims stage win
Andre Greipel believes he answered his critics after extending Germany's Tour de France sprint supremacy with victory in Champagne country on Thursday.
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The 194-kilometre sixth stage from Arras to Reims 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 told the Tour's official website: "I felt a lot of pressure after the first few stages but finally we have a victory. It's a good answer from Lotto-Belisol to the critics.
"My confidence was always there. We stayed calm and did a really good work. My team-mates and myself, we deserve this win."
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 on Thursday.
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 the 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 feared crosswinds on the route did little to separate the peloton on a stage which was destined to end in a bunch sprint.
The day's four-man breakaway of Jerome Pineau, 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.
Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) broke clear as the peloton passed through the flamme rouge at 1km to go on the uphill finish and stole some metres, but he was swept up with 300m to go as the sprinters took over.
Renshaw burst clear, but Greipel accelerated off his wheel to cross the line arms aloft, leaving everyone else in his wake.
After finishing a best of sixth in the previous sprints, Greipel was a relieved man who will have another opportunity on Friday's 234.5km seventh stage from Epernay to Nancy, which is expected to end in a sprint.
"At the end maybe it was not a leadout train, but with all the roundabouts it was not possible," Greipel added.
"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."
The top of the general classification was unchanged, with Nibali retaining the maillot jaune.
"It wasn't a quiet stage at all," Nibali said.
"On paper it should have been like that but nervousness was always there in the peloton because of the wind.
"In the finale in particular, we could feel it but I was well covered by my team.
"I still want to take it day by day and keep my feet on the ground."
Stage 6 result, Arras to Reims, 194km: 1 Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol 4hrs 11mins 39secs, 2 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha at same time, 3 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, 4 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Omega Pharma-Quick Step, 5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, 6 Romain Feillu (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement, 7 Tom Veelers (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano, 8 Bryan Coquard (Fra) Team Europcar, 9 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin Pro Cycling, 10 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling, 11 Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team, 12 Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits, 13 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team, 14 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing, 15 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team, 16 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano, 17 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp, 18 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team, 19 Jack Bauer (NZl) Garmin - Sharp, 20 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo, 21 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, 22 Rui Alberto Costa (Por) Lampre - Merida, 23 Kevin Reza (Fra) Team Europcar, 24 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling, 25 Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica Greenedge, 26 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team, 27 Peter Velits (Svk) BMC Racing Team, 28 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol, 29 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Netapp-Endura, 30 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team all at same time
Selected others: 56 Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky at same time, 102 Simon Yates (Gbr) Orica Greenedge at 59secs
General Classification after Stage 6: 1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 24hrs 38mins 25secs, 2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team at 02secs, 3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale at 44secs, 4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 50secs, 5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing at 01min 17secs, 6 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 01min 45secs, 7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol at same time, 8 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky at 01min 54secs, 9 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp at 02mins 05secs, 10 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team at 02mins 11secs, 11 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team at same time, 12 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, 13 Rui Alberto Costa (Por) Lampre - Merida all at same time, 14 Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Team Sky at 02mins 16secs, 15 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano at 02mins 25secs, 16 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Team Katusha at same time, 17 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling at 02mins 27secs, 18 Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 02mins 37secs, 19 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at 02mins 39secs, 20 Peter Velits (Svk) BMC Racing Team at 02mins 44secs, 21 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr at 03mins 24secs, 22 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica Greenedge at 03mins 29secs, 23 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale at same time, 24 Tiago Machado (Por) Team Netapp-Endura at 03mins 59secs, 25 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Trek Factory Racing at same time, 26 Marco Marcato (Ita) Cannondale at 04mins 08secs, 27 Mathias Frank (Swi) IAM Cycling at 04mins 13secs, 28 Christopher Horner (USA) Lampre - Merida at same time, 29 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling both at same time, 30 Mikel Nieve Iturralde (Spa) Team Sky at 04mins 28secs
Selected others: 102 Simon Yates (Gbr) Orica Greenedge at 27mins 14secs