Stage 6: Épernay - Metz 210km

By Les Clarke, Cyclingnews.com

Friday, July 6, 2012 2.15pm

Crash dashes GC hopes for Ryder Hesjedal

This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.

Sagan… The name has become a byword for ‘sensational’ at this year’s Tour de France as the 22-year-old Slovak took yet another stage win to make it a triple treat in 2012. The Liquigas-Cannondale rider simply out-powered André Greipel and Matthew Goss to the line in Metz, despite the best efforts of the Lotto-Belisol and Orica-GreenEdge teams respectively.

"Another win and I called this one ‘The Hulk'," said Peter Sagan, regarding his victory salute in Metz. "I'm very happy when I can win a stage like today. Yesterday I was unlucky with the crash but also content that nothing was broken and that I didn't have any injuries.

"This is already more than I ever expected. It's surprised me, too. I wanted to do well but I need to say that this is only the start of the Tour de France and tomorrow is when the race really begins because it's the climbs and I think that after two weeks, by the start of the third week, it's going to be really hard.

"I want the green jersey and I think I can hold on to it all the way to Paris."

With a properly flat parcours and on the eve of a foray into the mountains most would ensure a stage without high drama at this year’s Tour but you’d be wrong as the day was again characterized by crashes and calamity. Runner-up Greipel was involved in two crashes, but still figured in the finale.

"I crashed at 35km and then again at the mountain ranking," Greipel told Radsport-News.com. "I didn't want to sprint, but my teammates talked me into it. It was unbelievably painful." The German sprinter is believed to have dislocated his left shoulder.

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Video: Tour de France stage 6 highlights (Courtesy: ASO)

For some of the Tour’s big general classification contenders, the day was defined by a massive crash just 25km from home that saw the likes of Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal (who lost more than 13 minutes), Frank Schleck (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) and Rabobank’s Robert Gesink forego a significant swathe of time; tomorrow’s hills will prove that much harder after the accident as four riders were forced to abandon due to the injuries they suffered.

Consequently, the overall standings took on a different complexion by day’s end, with Hesjedal gone from the top 10 to leave Garmin-Sharp’s hopes in shreds, along with Edvald Boasson Hagen, who found himself caught in the day’s big crash. Radioshack-Nissan’s Fabian Cancellara remains in yellow – he’ll celebrate a week in the jersey tomorrow – whilst his teammate Maxime Monfort slips into the first ten. He’ll be one to watch in the next week.

A tranquil day… Who are we kidding?

Race leader fabian cancellara ahead of cadel evans in the bunch: race leader fabian cancellara ahead of cadel evans in the bunch

Cancellara and Evans

With the mountains beckoning and yesterday’s finish line palpitations fresh in their minds, the men working for the Tour’s sprinters kept the day’s break on a short leash. Experienced stager David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) attacked early in the day and was joined by Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Romain Zingle (Cofidis) and Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) to form the day’s escaping quartet after about 10km.

The break was allowed a maximum advantage nudging seven minutes before it was time to start pegging back the plucky escapees. The flat parcours lent itself to doing so with ease and the sprinters’ teams could pick and choose how much and when the time would be erased from the break.

There was a crash about 50km into the stage as double stage winner Greipel, his Lotto-Belisol teammate Francis de Greefe, Movistar duo José Ivan Gutierrez and Alejandro Valverde and Gesink and Vacansoleil-DCM pair Lieuwe Westra and Kris Boeckmans all touched down.

With much toil from several of his Lotto-Belisol teammates, Greipel could be seen taking a tow back to the peloton – the opportunity for further stage win glory driving the German and his lieutenants on as the pace increased at the front of the bunch.

Another day of toil for the medical staff

A massive crash caused carnage in the bunch with 20km to go: a massive crash caused carnage in the bunch with 20km to go

This year’s crash-fest continued 25km from the finish, the road resembling a bike swap meet as wheels, bikes, riders and mechanics cluttered the road whilst Orica-GreenEdge continued at tempo on the front in pursuit of a stage win for Goss. Bad news for Hesjedal, the Giro d’Italia champion caught in the fracas, as was Schleck, Lampre’s Michele Scarponi and AG2R-La Mondiale rider Jean-Christophe Peraud, who had already been held up earlier in the day.

With his BMC Racing teammates around him, fellow general classification contender Cadel Evans remained protected at the head of proceedings, however, the chase of the break taking on an Australian flavour with the reigning champion and his compatriots filling the front seats of the pursuit car.

The story would be different for Garmin-Sharp, however, with the likes of Hesjedal, Christian Vande Velde and Daniel Martin eventually finishing more than 13 minutes after Sagan had crossed the line, with teammate Johan Vansummeren a further three minutes behind.

Before that point, and with the peloton effectively split in half with just 20km remaining in the stage, the break was in the crosshairs of Orica-GreenEdge. Behind, the battered and bruised received attention, medical or otherwise. With 15km remaining there was 2:30 separating the two segments of the field, as Robert Gesink noticeably struggled – a frustratingly familiar story for the first week of the Tour for the Dutchman.

Flying run to the finish

The 10km banner saw the break holding onto a 14-second lead, with Goss increasingly looking the favourite to take line honours given that Greipel and Cavendish had suffered mishaps throughout the day. The latter had been slowed by the crash and wouldn’t figure in the finale at all. Behind them, the group containing Schleck continued to claw back time on the front group, the band of chasers resembling a casualty ward… And their faces spoke volumes for the pain they were enduring.

The final three kilometres saw Zabriskie kick away from his three companions, who were caught by a Lotto-led peloton just 500m later. Grimacing with pain, the veteran called upon the superhero strength of Captain America to stay away but with 1,300m remaining it was the end of Zabriskie’s game.

Soon after the catch was made a long sprint ensued, with Greg Henderson leading out Greipel for what seemed like an eternity (in sprinting terms) but as Peter Sagan’s high cadence kick reached full pitch, the German could only shake his head as he rode to a runner-up position ahead of Goss, who had again valiantly laid everything on the line in pursuit of a stage win

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