The biggest talking point of the Tour de France stage from Epernay to Metz will be the crash that took out half the peloton with 26km to go.
Not only did it force at least three men to abandon the Tour but it caused the likes of Fränk Schleck, Pierre Rolland, Alejandro Valverde, Mark Cavendish and large number of others to lose significant time. The two big pre-race favorites for the general classification - Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins -survived the carnage near Gorze and so too did most of the sprint specialists with the notable exception of Mark Cavendish.
While riders like Ryder Hesjedal limped to the finish nursing horrible wounds and moral that was shot to pieces because they've essentially been put out of contention for the yellow jersey even before the first mountain stages, there was still the battle for the prestige of a stage victory taking place up ahead.
Lotto-Belisol already conceded that it wouldn't have their main sprinter in one hundred percent condition as André Greipel had crashed twice in the early stanza of the stage, but it dominated the front peloton that swallowed up the final escape, Dave Zabriskie inside the final two kilometers.
With four men at the front going in to the final turn it seem possible that Greipel would become the first man to take a hat-trick of sprint stages since Mario Cipollini in 1999 but he was injured and not able to fire on all cylinders. Instead it was the other multiple stage winner from 2012 who proved that he's resilient, cunning and super fast - Peter Sagan came off the wheel of the Lotto Express inside the final 300m, just as a member of Vacansoleil's lead-out train snapped a chain. From there the man in the green jersey put daylight between him and the next best in Metz, André Greipel.
The progress report The 207.5km sixth stage of the 2012 Tour de France, from Epernay to Metz, was essentially on a flat course with only one categorized hill (the cat-4 côte de Buxières at 145km) and another feature of the race was the intermediate sprint was in Saint-Mihiel (at 135.5km). There were 194 riders at the sign on and the official start was at 12.34pm. There was a fall in the neutral zone that involved Porte (SKY) and van den Broeck (LTB). Dave Z instigates the escape After a fast start, the first rider to break free of the peloton was Dave Zabriskie (GRS) at 7.5km he was caught by three others: Malacarne (EUC), Zingle (COF) and Kroon (STB). At 12km, they were ahead by 1'50”. The advantage reached 4'00” at 18km and that's when RadioShack and Lotto put riders on the front of the peloton which seemed intent on keeping the escapees at around that margin... and then, at the 35km mark there was a crash that involved, amongst others: Gesink (RAB), Gutierrez, Valverde (MOV), Westra (VCD), Greipel (LTB), Peraud (ALM). This prompted an easing in the pace of the chase and, at 40km, the bunch was 6'00” behind. The average speed for the first hour was 42.2km/h.
The maximum gain of the escape was 6'50” at the 72km mark. The average speed for the second hour was 40.5km/h. On the approach to the intermediate sprint, more riders from Orica-GreenEdge came to the front of the bunch and, along with Lotto-Belisol riders, they lifted the pace of the bunch significantly. At 130km (ie. 5km from the sprint line) the advantage of the escapees was just 3'20”. Goss beats Cavendish at intermediate sprint In the lead-up to the sprint a number of Orica-GreenEdge riders – Albasini, O'Grady and Impey – set a rapid pace. In the escape group Kroon made sure he got the 20 points for first. Then, at the head of the peloton Vacansoleil took charge of the lead-out before Sky had three men – Eisel, Boasson Hagen and Cavendish came around and into the lead. Goss jumped early and got the 11 points for fifth place. The Tasmanian beat Cavendish and Sagan while three other Orica riders took points. By then the peloton was just 2'50” behind.
Leading to the cimb there was another fast surge from the peloton and it was just 1'30” behind. Zabriskie took the climbing point and the bunch was 1'40” behind but a Rabobank rider appeared to get tangled up in the barriers and this caused many in the peloton to stop just near the top of the ascent. Greipel, Farrar and Mollema were involved and the pace of the peloton eased and the advantage grew to 1'50”. Crash splits the peloton! Just as the leader passed under the 25km to go mark – and the bunch was at 26km – there was a huge crash in the peloton. It involved the likes of Schleck, Cavendish, Boasson Hagen, Peraud and many others (who you'll see down the rankings for the stage) and it forced the retirement of Poels (VCD). Cancellara, Evans, Wiggins, van Garderen, Nibali, and Basso all survived, as did most of the Orica-GreenEdge team that took control of the front bunch.
The Australian team was largely responsible for setting the pace until the last of the four escapees, Zabriskie, was caught inside the final 2km. The Lotto team controlled the lead-out but it had no answer to the speed of Sagan who increased his lead in the points classification with his third victory in his Tour debut.
But it will be the casualties that this stage will be remembered for. Tom Danielson abandoned, Schleck, Valverde, and a host of others lost 2'09”; Gesink lost 3'31” and Hesjedal and others lost a massive 13'31”.
Fabian Cancellara, however, did as he always does: finished with the front group. He will wear the yellow jersey in stage seven.