Overall: 1. Greg Van Avermaet 30hrs 18mins 38sec; 2. Julian Alaphilippe 5:11; 3. Alejandro Valverde 5:13; 4. Joaquin Rodriguez 5:15; 5. Chris Froome 5:17; 6. Warren Barguil 5:17; 7. Nairo Quintana 5:17; 8. Pierre Rolland 5:17; 9. Fabio Aru 5:17; 10. Daniel Martin 5:17
Stage 6: 1. Mark Cavendish 5hrs 43mins 48sec; 2. Marcel Kittel same time; 3. Daniel McLay (GBR/FVC) s.t.; 4. Alexander Kristoff (NOR/KAT) s.t.; 5. Christophe Laporte (FRA/COF) s.t.
Points: 1 Mark Cavendish 204pts; 2 Marcel Kittel 182pts; 3 Peter Sagan 175pts
Mountains: 1. Thomas De Gendt 13; 2. Greg Van Avermaet 11; 3. Jasper Stuyven 5; 4. Andriy Grivko 5; 5. Jan Barta 4
Youth: 1 Julian Alaphilippe; 2 Warren Barguil; 3 Wilco Kelderman
Montauban, France // Mark Cavendish took another giant step towards Tour de France greatness by claiming his 29th stage win on Thursday in a dramatic sprint finish in sweltering heat.
The Briton, 31, now only has Belgian legend Eddy Merckx ahead of him on the all-time list of stage victories with a once-seemingly unattainable mark of 34.
But having won three stages out of six already in this Tour, Cavendish is coming up fast behind Merckx, a five-time Tour winner.
On Thursday’s 190.5km sixth stage from Arpajon-sur-Cere to Montauban, Cavendish timed his burst for the line to perfection to streak past Marcel Kittel and then hold off a late surge by the German.
“It was a fast finish so I knew it was well worth going early,” said Cavendish.
“I knew I could get a sling-shot off Kittel.”
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Briton Dan McLay took a surprise third place on the stage to show the future is bright in British sprinting whenever former world champion Cavendish decides to call time on his remarkable career.
The Manx Missile had already beaten Kittel into second on Saturday’s opening stage to Utah Beach before also winning the third stage in Angers.
Kittel got his own back on Tuesday’s fourth stage when Cavendish could finish only eighth but the Briton proved in Montauban he’s the fast man to beat at this Tour.
“To be very honest, in the finals this year, there is no tactic. It’s impossible to ride with a team here,” complained Kittel, who said Cavendish had produced a better sprint tactically.
“It’s pure chaos and that’s why you can win here with really smart positioning.”
Cavendish took back the sprinters’ green points jersey from Slovakia’s Peter Sagan.
It’s a jersey he should keep for several days as the Tour passes through the Pyrenees, where the overall contenders will finally start their battle.
But Cavendish says he’s unlikely to hold it all the way to Paris as Sagan can pick up points in lumpy stages where pure sprinters can’t keep up.
“He’s on a different level to everyone else. He can do what he wants,” admitted Cavendish.
“If he decides to do something, he can do it. It’s nice to wear the green jersey but it will be with no-one in Paris but Peter.”
Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet kept hold of the race leader’s yellow jersey and maintains his 5min 11sec lead over Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe.
But both will be hard pushed to maintain such lofty positions on Friday when the first major mountain, the Col d’Aspin, looms large.
“Keeping the yellow jersey will be hard tomorrow but I will try -- if you’re in yellow you have to fight for it in every second,” said the 31-year-old BMC rider.
“The approach is easy but we’ll see how far I can go on a climb like this.
“Five minutes is a lot but when the climbers really go, it’s not much!”
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, third at 5:13, is well placed to take over the race lead but his Movistar team leader Nairo Quintana and reigning champion Chris Froome will also be aiming to make their mark.
They are only another four seconds back.
On a scorching hot day, there was a certain inevitability of a bunch sprint at the finish.
With searing heat accompanying the riders all day, only two men found the courage to embark out on a lonely, long-range bid for glory.
Japan’s Yukiya Arashiro was joined by Czech Jan Barta on a day that began with a summery 25C (77F) temperature in Arpajon but ended in a sweaty 32C in Montauban.
They built a lead of over five minutes at one point but were brought back 22km from the finish as the sprinters’ teams took no chances.
Kittel seemed well set in the sprint but Cavendish had his wheel and stormed past to take another memorable win.
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