Andre Greipel emerged from the shadow of fellow German Marcel Kittel to win a crash-hit sixth stage of the Tour de France, a 194-km ride from Arras on Thursday.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff was second and Frenchman Samuel Dumoulin took third place as Italian Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey. “It wasn’t a quiet stage at all. On paper it should have been like that but nervousness was always there in the peloton because of the wind,” said Nibali.
“In the finale in particular, we could feel it but I was well covered by my team.” Lotto-Belisol rider Greipel, who had a mediocre start to the Tour, struck some 200 metres from the line as the peloton looked disorganised after Kittel, winner of three stages this year, dropped out of contention in the final kilometre.
His Giant-Shimano team first said he suffered a mechanical problem, but sports director Christian Guiberteau said later that Kittel was tired.
“It was a bit difficult for Marcel today. It was not just the aftermath of his fall (on Wednesday), he just did not have the legs today,” he explained.
“It’s not a mechanical (problem) or a puncture. It was just not his day.” Greipel said: “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 really good work. My team mates and myself, we deserve this win.”
When asked about his relationship with Kittel, who had the upper hand in the first week of the Tour, he said: “We are rivals but we have a lot of respect for each other.”
Australian Richie Porte, the new Team Sky leader after defending champion Chris Froome crashed out on Wednesday, and Alberto Contador lost key team mates as Spaniards Xabier Zandio and Jesus Hernandez both abandoned after falling.
“It’s never good to lose a rider, but that’s racing. Jesus Hernandez tried to continue but he really hurt his head,” said Tinkoff-Saxo team manager Bjarne Riis.
As French president Francois Hollande joined Tour boss Christian Prudhomme in his car, crosswinds on the Chemin des Dames ridge — scene of three World War One battles — split the peloton.
French champion Arnaud Demare and green jersey holder Peter Sagan were trapped behind but eventually made it back into the peloton, which was split again some eight km from the finish.
France’s Thibaut Pinot, one of the riders with credible general classification ambitions, was caught behind and lost about one minute.