For the second day in a row, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) proved, once again, that he is currently the fastest man on two wheels. The 25-year old sprinter from the Isle of Man took his second stage in as many days when he won the 227.5km Stage 6 from Montargis to Gueugnon.
Three intermediate sprints and four categorized climbs highlighted the longest stage of the 97th Tour de France, in what many expected to be the final play day for the sprinters for sometime as the race would soon turn toward the mountains. At the very outset, the trio of Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mathieu Perget (Caisse d’Epargne) went out on what has been the customary suicidal effort the past few days and quickly built a lead of over 8 minutes. The three exchanged blows over the course of the day, contesting each of the sprints out on the road as well as three of the four climbs.
The breakaway was joined late in the stage by Dmitri Champion (AG2R La Mondiale), who contested the day's final climb, and then by Anthony Charteau (BBox Bouygues Telecom). These latter two moves; however, only seemed to agitate the angry peloton, which was already positioning itself for the run into the finish in Gueugnon.
The catch inevitably came with ten kilometers left to go. After a few precarious turns in the final three kilometers, the sprinters lined up for the drag race into the finish. Mark Renshaw (HTC-Columbia) would once again take out the sprint in the closing meters with teammate Cavendish closely on his wheel. Left out front, Cavendish sealed the deal in dominating fashion, leaving the next two closest riders, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini), simply grasping at air.
Stage 6 Results
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia
2. Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Transitions
3. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese Vini
And So It Begins
With the mountains no longer looming but directly in front of the peloton, the battle for the overall will finally begin. The unfortunate circumstances on Stage 3 sent a number of contenders reeling, most notably Lance Armstrong (Team Radio Shack), who currently sits in 18th place 2'30" in arrears.
A brutal third week may make the contenders to the Tour de France crown wary of attacking too soon, but if the hopes of those like Armstrong or Michael Rogers (HTC-Columbia) are to be buoyed at all, each should look to put these early mountain stages to good use.
General Classification After Stage 6
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank
2. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team - 0:00:23
3. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team - 0:00:39
4. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Transitions - 0:00:46
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step - 0:01:01
6. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank - 0:01:09
7. Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team - 0:01:19
8. Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana - 0:01:31
9. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana - 0:01:40
10. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto - 0:01:42
Jersey Leaders After Stage 6
maillot jaune - Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank
maillot vert - Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team
maillot à pois rouges - Jerome Pineau (Fra) Quick Step
maillot blanc - Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling Team
Next: Stage 7 - Tournus to Station des Rousses (165.5km)
The 97th Tour de France heads into the mountains. Will Lance Armstrong (Team Radio Shack), who currently sits in 18th place, begin his assault on the maillot jaune? Follow our LIVE Tour de France commentary on LIVESTRONG.com.