MARK Cavendish was expected to roar into Montpellier to take his second successive stage win. However Andre Greipel timed his run perfectly to take the win. Stage seven will provide him with another chance to prove he is better than the Manxman.
It's a bit more of a rolling profile than previously and in fact shares some similarities with stage two. It takes the riders 205km from Montpellier to Albi and crosses four categorised climbs. One cat 2, two cat 3's and a cat 4.
However whereas on stage 2 the sprinters who were dropped early on the 2nd category Col de Vizzavona only had 60km to recover, here they will have plenty of time to rejoin the peleton. The 2nd cat climb here is the 6.7km long Col de la Croix de Mounis but it's summit is 111km from the finish. The final climb of the day, the cat 4 Cote de Teillet comes 36km from the end.
The run in itself is straight and flat for the last km and with only a few kinks in the final 5km should be tailor-made for a sprint finish.
Can Cav make amends or will Greipel repeat? Cav is clearly over his recent illness but got he and OPQS got their timings all wrong. A hard chase to get back into contention after a slight tumble also did him no favours.
Greipel however took advantage on a perfect leadout by his Lotto-Belisol team
Cannondale will be out to try and make it hard for them both tomorrow in the hills. If they can put enough of distance into the sprinters it will mean a very hard chase just to get back to the bunch, which could nullify the sprint trains somewhat.
Peter Sagan still hasn't won a stage yet despite some close run things. He will be desperate to win and really cement his lead in the green jersey.
Again those people who have dominated the top 10 in recent days will be there or thereabouts. This means Marcel Kittel, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Alexander Kristoff, et al. I can't see anyone outside of these top quick men getting anywhere near if it ends as expected in a sprint.
With the exception of Juan Jose Lobato del Valle. The Euskatel rider has finished 7th and 5th in the last two days and could well make the top 10 again.
But I still think Cav will do it. He will be fuming after missing out today so expect a reaction and win number 25.
However for that to happen it has to actually finish in a bunch sprint. This could be well be a day that the breakaway makes it although a lot will depend on what happens during the stage. Those who are looking for an early lead in the King of the Mountains jersey will mix with the have-a-go heroes and if they can get a strong group together they will have a good chance of making it all the way to the line.
Riders who will go for the breakaway are interchangeable but expect teams such as Europcar (Pierre Rolland?), Vaconsoleil (Westra, De Gendt, Flecha?), Saur Sojasun, Euskatel, Cofidis and AG2R to all try and infiltrate the escape.
Don't expect to see any of the big favourites though today, other than trying to stay out of trouble at the front of the bunch. Saturday and Sunday sees the race enter the Pyrenees which is guaranteed to be huge in terms of the overall. Fireworks will be expected from the likes of Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans then.
As they will be from the Manx Missile today!
These are a fairly new phenomenon and owe Mark Cavendish really for their creation.
In days gone by there was no real structure to a bunch sprint. The fast men gathered near the front, the rest got out of their way and the bun fight began!
And in some cases actual fights broke out. Headbuts, punches were all common place. I even remember Belgian sprinter Tom Steels hurling a water bottle at a rival he felt had impeded him, all at speeds of 50+ kph!
However it was while Cav was at Team HighRoad that a plan of attack was brought in. His team realised that if they could navigate through the carnage and keep him towards the front, there was very few people who were going to beat him for speed.
And so this is what they did. They would put three or four riders ahead of Cav with about 5km to go, move to the front and keep the pace so high that nobody could launch off the front or come past them.
The last man in the line would, in theory, take him all the way to about 200-300m to go and then the 'missile' would be launched.
It proved so effective that now everybody does it to the point that there is often three sprint trains leading the peloton in a strange trident formation.
Because it has been proved that riding in somebody's slipstream saves you around 20% in terms of energy then sprinters themselves almost get an armchair ride till the very last moments of the stage. It is why after every win Mark will thank his team profusely, saying something along the lines of 'I couldn't have done it without my team' and 'They rode so hard'.
You can still win a bunch sprint without a team helping you. But it involves knowing which wheel to be on and at what time, as well as an amazing amount of bravery and luck!
And while the sprint trains remain effective they will rule the roost in any massed finish.