Greipel answers critics with win
4:40pm Thursday 10th July 2014 in © Press Association 2014
Andre Greipel believes he answered his critics after extending Germany's Tour de France sprint supremacy with victory in Champagne country on Thursday.
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 letour.com: "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 pulled out on Wednesday due to 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 (IAM Cycling), 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.
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 letour.com.
"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."