Last sprinters' stage of the first week saw the German take his second podium and remain in contention for the green jersey.
Stage 6 of the Tour de France was an uneventful one until the last 10 kilometers, when the real battle for the win began. Before that hectic part, the flatter terrain didn't convince too many riders to book a place in the escape, the only ones to go for it being Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre-Merida) and Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18), who split between them the intermediate sprint and the three categorized climbs which were on the course of the 190.5-km long stage 6, that took the pack between Arpajon-sur-Cère and Montauban, where the Grande Boucle was returning after 18 years. Their advantage didn't linger too far north of five minutes, as Etixx – Quick-Step, Direct Energie and Lotto-Soudal shared the work in the bunch and reabsorbed the duo with around 20 kilometers remaining.
Coming into the outskirts of the town located in the Tarn-et-Garonne department, the sprinters' teams tried to bring their leaders to the fore and catapult them to first place on the flat and wide stretch to the line, but the succession of corners which preceded the finish disintegrated the lead-out, so in the end it was every man for himself. Marcel Kittel opened his sprint in the last 300 meters from the left side of the road, but despite his huge effort, he had to be content with second, behind Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), but ahead of another Brit, Daniel McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept).
Marcel, who has one win and two podiums to his name after the first six stages of the Tour de France, also climbed to second place in the green jersey standings, just 22 points behind the leader: "Congratulations to Mark Cavendish, he was fast and played it smart today. In this year's finales it's impossible to have a team tactic, because you always get small and narrow roads, tricky corners, and on top of all, the GC teams, which are crowding in. You never know what's going to happen and because of the crazy sprints it's almost impossible to have a lead-out. That makes me even more proud of the boys, who managed to bring me to the front for the last part of the stage. We lost today, but for sure we will try again."
The first French debutant in five years to lead the prestigious youth classification, Julian Alaphilippe rolled home four seconds behind the group that contested the sprint, together with the other general classification riders, and booked another visit to the podium, to receive his fifth white jersey of the race. Now, he looks towards the next three days, which will test him on the tough climbs of the Pyrenees: "It was really hot today, the second consecutive stage in which we had such conditions. It's a pity Marcel didn't win, but we are confident other opportunities will come. Tomorrow will be the first of the three days we'll spend in the Pyrenees, and to be quite frankly, I don't know what to expect from these stages. I will try my best, but I know that it's going to be very difficult to defend my jersey."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele