Cy­clists on cruise con­trol

Mostly flat ter­rain of­fers re­lax­ation be­fore race ramps up again with more moun­tain stages

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By An­drew Dampf and John Le­ices­ter Peter Dejong, The As­so­ci­ated Press Peter Dejong, The As­so­ci­ated Press

TROYES, FRANCE» On long, mostly flat sul­try stages like Thurs­day’s, all Chris Froome and the other lead­ers in the Tour de France want to do is take it easy.

Let the sprint­ers have their day in the sun and pre­pare for the next moun­tain stages this week­end.

Un­til a beach um­brella floats across the pack.

That was the only in­ci­dent of note amid hours-long stretches of un­event­ful cy­cling dur­ing Stage 6, which was won with ease by Ger­man sprinter Mar­cel Kit­tel.

“There was a bit of wind and the para­sol took off and ended up in the road,” said Froome, who had to veer out of the way. “That’s the Tour.”

Oth­er­wise, Froome said, he spent the day chat­ting with other rid­ers and ad­mir­ing the views as the pelo­ton rode into cham­pagne coun­try and through Colombeyles-Deux-Eglises, the home­town of France’s wartime hero and for­mer pres­i­dent, Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

“That’s the most re­lax­ing day in the Tour I’ve ever had,” Froome said after five hours in the sad­dle. “I ac­tu­ally quite en­joy these long days.”

At the con­clu­sion of the mostly flat 134-mile leg from Ve­soul to Troyes — the race’s sec­ond­longest stage — Kit­tel had lit­tle trou­ble in the sprint fin­ish, with Peter Sa­gan and Mark Cavendish both no longer in the race.

As the other con­tenders bunched to­gether on the right side of the road, Kit­tel burst for­ward around them on the left and eas­ily cre­ated a com­fort­able gap al­low­ing him to cel­e­brate as he crossed the line.

It was Kit­tel’s se­cond vic­tory in this year’s race and 11th over­all in his Tour ca­reer.

“I was re­ally con­fi­dent in my team,” Kit­tel said. “I was also re­ally con­fi­dent in my­self to­day. There was just a mo­ment when I broke free and started to go ahead.”

Stage 4 win­ner Ar­naud De­mare fin­ished se­cond Thurs­day and An­dre Greipel was third.

Sa­gan, the world cham­pion, was dis­qual­i­fied for el­bow­ing Cavendish to the ground two days ago. The fall re­sulted in Cavendish, who has 30 Tour wins, aban­don­ing the race with a bro­ken shoul­der.

Kit­tel said the ab­sence of Cavendish and Sa­gan has al­tered the rac­ing in that their teams are no longer bat­tling out the sprint fin­ishes.

He was re­peat­edly asked after his win about their ab­sence.

“It’s a bit sad that it’s all about this de­ci­sion,” he said. “The level that we have here for the sprints is still very, very high.”

A three-man break­away rode out front for most of the stage. Per­rig Quemeneur, Fred­erik Back­aert and Ve­gard Stake Laen­gen were caught by the pelo­ton with only 3 kilo­me­ters re­main­ing.

Froome re­mained 12 sec­onds ahead of Sky team­mate Geraint Thomas and 14 sec­onds ahead of Fabio Aru of Italy.

Richie Porte (in fifth place over­all) and other rid­ers eye­ing vic­tory in Paris on July 23 were sim­ply pleased to get the long, hot stage over with­out in­ci­dent.

“It was such a long day. Prob­a­bly, you know, could have had the same re­sult with half the dis­tance, but it’s a nice one to get done,” Porte said.

On such days, Porte said, “there’s noth­ing to gain but there’s so much to lose . ... It was quite a fran­tic fin­ish.”

The Tour re­mains in Troyes for the start of Stage 7 on Fri­day, a 133-mile leg that again sets up well for sprint­ers with a fin­ish in the Bur­gundy wine town of Nuit­sSaint-Ge­orges.

Fri­day is “an­other long day — and I think the aim of that is just to sap the en­ergy a bit,” Porte said. “They sure are long days.”

Rid­ers pedal through the pretty French coun­try­side dur­ing Stage 6 of the Tour de France on Thurs­day. The race wraps up July 23 in Paris.

Ger­man sprinter Mar­cel Kit­tel cel­e­brates Thurs­day after win­ning Stage 6, a 134-mile leg of the race.

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