Tour hat-trick for Sagan
Wiggins and Evans both avoid carnage on dramatic stage
Last Updated: July 7, 2012 5:00pm
Peter Sagan: Another illustration of his impressive all-round talents
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) claimed his third victory of this year's Tour de France after a crash-strewn sixth stage from Epernay to Metz.
1 - Peter Sagan - SVK – Liquigas-Cannondale - 4:37:00
2 - André Greipel - GER – Lotto-Belisol - +0
3 - Matthew Goss - AUS – Orica-GreenEDGE - +0
4 - Kenny van Hummel - NED – Vacansoleil-DCM - +0
5 - Juan José Haedo - ARG - Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank - +0 Overall standings:
1 - Fabian Cancellara - SUI – RadioShack-Nissan - 29:22:36
2 - Bradley Wiggins - GBR - Team Sky - +7
3 - Sylvain Chavanel - FRA - Omega Pharma-Quick-Step - +7
The 22-year-old Slovak, who came out on top in the more testing finishes to stages one and three, won a flat-out sprint this time to extend his lead in the points classification.
He denied André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) - caught up in at least two crashes - a third straight success in emphatic style, with Matthew Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) in third.
"I want the green jersey and I think I can hold on to it all the way to Paris," said Sagan, who has 209 points to lead the points classification.
"This is already more than I ever expected. It's surprised me too.
"I wanted to do well but I need to say that this is only the start of the Tour de France and tomorrow is when the race really begins because it's the climbs and I think that after two weeks, by the start of the third week, it's going to be really hard.
"I think I did well today because the other sprinters are a little tired and maybe that's the key to this win."
The day was marked by a number of crashes, the most significant of which came 25km from home and split the peloton to pieces, Team Sky's Mark Cavendish just got through that but his hopes were dealt a blow as he suffered a puncture caused by having to brake so hard to avoid it.
The incident meant the world champion will have to wait to draw level with Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade in fourth place in the all-time rankings of stage winners.
Outright favourites Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) both avoided that and finished in the front group but a number of other overall contenders saw their Tour ambitions suffer a huge blow.
Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) was worst affected as he lost 13:24 while Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), third in the Tour in 2011, gave up 2:09.
Garmin-Sharp's David Millar described the moment his team-mate Hesjedal's Tour bid ended as the Canadian tumbled from ninth in the standings, 18 seconds adrift, to 108th place.
"It was the scariest crash I've ever been in," said the 35-year-old Scot, riding in his 11th Tour and nursing bleeding cuts.
"We were doing 70 (kph) when it happened. God knows how it happened - some idiot.
"It shouldn't happen like that. Once it started happening we didn't even have a chance to really brake.
"We were banging into each other at 60, 70kph. I was lucky, I think, in that I was in the third wave.
"I started landing on guys, but bikes were hitting me, chain rings going up and over me and getting tangled up."
Fabian Cancellara remains in the leader's yellow jersey, seven seconds ahead of Wiggins and Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) while Evans is a further 10 seconds back in sixth.
Team Sky continue to lead the team classification while Michael Morkov will wear the polka dot jersey as the race hits the mountains for the first time on Saturday with a 199km route from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles.
Day of drama
The day had begun with a four-man break moving clear after 5km and they were still ahead of the pack at the intermediate sprint with 72km remaining.
Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) was the only rider to contest that, with Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Romain Zingle (Cofidis) and David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) content to roll over the line.
The peloton followed fewer than three minutes later, with Goss beating Cavendish to the line.
Greipel was then caught in a collision on the ascent of the day's only categorised climb, the category four Cote du Buxieres, the summit of which came 62.5km from the finish.
The German was temporarily delayed, but a tough chase accompanied by two team-mates saw him rejoin the peloton.
Further drama was to come when the peloton was split into two by the major collision around 25km from the end, with riders and bikes scattered across the road and in ditches running parallel to the tarmac.
As those involved assessed the condition of their bodies and bikes, the survivors of the split forged on in pursuit of the breakaway.
Greipel and five of his Lotto-Belisol team-mates made it through and led the pursuit of the breakaway, catching three of the escapees with 2.4km remaining and Zabriskie 900 metres later.
Greipel - seeking to become the 12th rider to win three straight Tour stages - was superbly led out again but Sagan once more demonstrated his supreme talent to triumph.