People talk about climbing as if it's the biggest challenge facing bike riders at the Tour De France. When a flat stage is seen, there's an assumption that the race will be easy and a sprint finish assured. But when the riders started this Tour de France's Stage Six, a flat 177km (110.6mi) ride across southern France from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier, most riders in the Tour were filled with worry, and the rest with fear.

For Cannondale Pro Cycling, they were worried. The finish favors Peter Sagan's rivals, and he'll need to finish well in order to hold onto his lead in the Green Jersey Points competition.

The thing occupying all riders' thoughts was the wind, and how the peloton reacts. The stage riders would spend the day traversing open fields in a notoriously windy region of France. Hours of battling crosswinds makes the peloton nervous and jumpy, and as the day wears on, frayed nerves and tired bodies often lead to bad decisions and crashes. The fear is that a fierce crosswind could would split the peloton, and neither sprinters nor overall contenders want to be on the wrong side of a split, so they spend their day fighting to stay at the front.

Perhaps this is why when the first attacker of the day Luis Angel Mate Mardones of Cofidis set out 4km (2.5mi) into the race, nobody joined him. Even though he quickly raced out to a gap of almost five-and-a-half minutes, he decided to turn off the gas and wait for the peloton to catch him.

Mate's move turned out to be the only attack of the day.

The peloton didn't contest the only King of the Mountain climb of the day either. And it was all together when the field came was bearing down on the intermediate sprint, where Lotto-Belisol's Andre Greipel won the dash across the line and Sagan had to settle for fourth.

As the kilometers ticked off at an average speed of over 45kph (28mph) both the teams of the best sprinters and the teams of the overall contenders fought to be at the front.

It was perhaps a result of this position battling that Sagan rode off the tarmac and into the grass with 50km (31mi) remaining. Two kilometers later, he stopped to change both front and rear wheels. And then it took another eight kilometers, and the help of four teammates, to rejoin the peloton. At least he did better He fared better than sprint rival Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quickstep, who crashed as a result of the difficult racing and fight for position at the front. Cav', too, had teammates waiting for him and was paced back to the front.

As the pack reached the outskirts of Albi, riders were dropping off the back, victims of the infernal speed. The rear portions of the peloton were split by the pace and the narrow roads and the constant pressure at the front. With five kilometers remaining (3.1mi), Omega Pharma was driving the pace to position Cav’ for the sprint finish. With four (2.5mi), it was Argo-Shimano working for Marcel Kittel. With two (1.2mi), it was Lotto, giving their all for Greipel. Even at the front, there were gaps as into the final kilometer, the first sixteen riders got a few seconds lead on the rest trailing peloton.

As Lotto finished their lead-out for Greipel, Sagan was tight on his wheel and Cavendish behind Sagan. Knowing he was in a less than ideal position, Cav' jumped early. But Greipel didn't worry and opened up his sprint, Sagan fighting to match the German's jump. Greipel showed no weakness and Sagan didn't have the juice to gain any ground, and the duo finished one-two, with Kittel claiming third and Cavendish fourth.

The gap that opened up at the end had ramifications for the Yellow Jersey. Race leader Simon Gerrans of Orica-Greenedge was on the wrong side of the split and lost the lead to his teammate Daryl Impey. Impey, hailing from South Africa, thus became the first South African to wear the Maillot Jaune

After the podium presentations, where Sagan was awarded another Green Jersey for remaining atop the Points competition and collecting another award for the best young rider of the day, Sagan expressed relief. "All  day it was windy and dangerous. It was very nervous in the pack. But the race was good for me. I held the green jersey. I was second behind Greipel, but it was a sprinter's stage. I think it was a good performance; it's hard to beat those guys. My biggest rival for the green jersey is a crash. If I stay safe, I think I can win the Green Jersey." 

Stage Seven, tomorrow's test, travels west away from the coast. The race from Montpellier to Albi is 205.5km long. It's not a flat stage, but probably not hilly enough to insure a breakaway finish. With two categorized climbs before the intermediate sprint at 135km, and two more categorized climbs before the finish, the speed at which the peloton tackles the hills will help Cannondale Pro Cycling and Peter Sagan to increase his lead in the points competition, as sprint rivals Cavendish, Greipel, and Kittel will all need their teams to help them over the hills. With a downhill ride to the finish, they're hoping they can get back on after the climbing is done.

 

Tour de France 2013
Stage 6 Aix-en-Provence to Albi 177km

 

Stage Results

1. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol                                 in   3:59:02             
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling           at   same time      
3. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Argos-Shimano                         same time
4. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step           same time
5. Juan Jose Lobato Del Valle (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi          same time

 

Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling

84. Fabio Sabatini (Ita)                                                            0:00:05           
111. Kristijan Koren (Slo)                                                      same time
118. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita)                                             same time
127. Alan Marangoni (Ita)                                                       0:00:24
147. Maciej Bodnar (Pol)                                                        0:03:25           
156. Moreno Moser (Ita)                                                        0:05:18
157. Brian Vandborg (Den)               

 

General Classification

1. Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEdge                                22:18:17           
2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling                    0:00:03             
3. Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge                             0:00:05             
4. Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica-GreenEdge                           same time
5. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step      0:00:06           

 

General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling

32. Peter Sagan (Svk)                                                              0:00:34           
64. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita)                                               0:02:02           
74. Kristijan Koren (Slo)                                                        0:06:17           
100. Moreno Moser (Ita)                                                        0:15:07           
117. Alan Marangoni (Ita)                                                       0:18:49           
124. Maciej Bodnar (Pol)                                                        0:22:19           
136. Fabio Sabatini (Ita)                                                          0:26:39           
144. Brian Vandborg (Den)                                                    0:27:50           

Points Competition

1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling                 159 pts
2. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol                                       130       
3. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Omega Pharma-Quick Step           119       
4. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha                                      111       
5. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Argos-Shimano                          087