Dylan Teuns of Bahrain Merida held on from the breakaway to win stage 6 of the Tour de France, as Giulio Ciccone edged out Julian Alaphilippe as the new leader of the race.

It was a day of change in the general classification, with only two of the top ten staying in their positions overall. One of them was George Bennett, who remains 4th overall; while teammate Steven Kruijswijk lost ground to go down to 8th.

Stage 6 of the Tour de France began without Patrick Bevin.  Sadly for the Kiwi, fractured ribs sustained in stage 4 had become too uncomfortable to ride with; and the CCC Team rider became the first rider to abandon the 2019 edition of the Tour de France.

Strong break offers KOM & stage opportunities

The sixth stage was set to be one of the early decisive stages for the GC contenders as the 175 remaining riders took on the road to La Planche des Belles Filles.  For the first time as well the peloton – led by Deceuninck-Quick Step and Team Ineos – appeared happy for the break of the day to potentially go all the way to the line in what were damp and overcast conditions.

In amongst the breakaway were Lotto Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt and Tim Wellens, Trek-Segafredo’s Giulio Ciccone and Julien Bernard, Bahrain Merida’s Dylan Teuns, Arkea-Samsic’s Andrea Greipel, Katusha Alpecin’s Nils Politts, Wanty-Gobert’s Andrea Pasqualon and Xandro Meurisse, Team Sunweb’s Nikias Arndt, Cofidis’ Natnael Berhane, CCC Team’s Serge Pauwels and Total Direct Energie’s Fabien Grellier.

The break’s lead was allowed to grow quite significantly to 7 minutes on the first major climb of the day; the climb of Le Markstein; with the breakaway staying together.  There were a number of different motives in the breakaway, with the allure of a potential stage win for someone like De Gendt coupled with the potential for KOM points for himself and teammate Wellens.  Giulio Ciccone also stood a good chance of taking the maillot jaune as the highest placed of the breakaway in the GC standings at 1.43mins behind Julian Alaphilippe.

Geraint Thomas’ late attack made a statement as he distanced his GC rivals as well as teammate Egan Bernal, photo Sirotti

De Gendt attacks, Movistar take over chase

Approaching the top of the climb Thomas De Gendt ramped up the pace significantly for his teammate Wellens, with the polka dot jersey eventually taking off to try and take maximum points in the company of Xandro Meurisse and Giulio Ciccone.  He just about succeeded as the breakaway stretched out significantly for the first time; with Greipel predictably struggling amongst some of the more renowned climbers.  After cresting the first summit, however, the break reunited and proceeded on to the summit of the second climb; Le Grand Ballon.

After De Gendt took the 2 points for first at the second climb of the day, teammate Wellens went back to winning maximum points on the Ballon d’Alsace.  Progressively there was a changing of the guard in the peloton as Movistar took over from Deceuninck-Quick Step.  But it was on the road between the Ballon d’Alsace and the Col des Croix where Thomas De Gendt made his attack, going solo and gaining a lead of some 30 seconds over the rest of the break.  It was not a race-winning move, but it did serve to really break up the escapees until just Ciccone, Wellens, Meurisse and Teuns were left.  The quartet chased hard to get across to De Gendt – dropping the Belgian immediately, with Teuns setting the tempo with 700 to the top of the climb.

Meanwhile the tempo set by Movistar was breaking the main field apart, with riders being spat out of the peloton all the time including the maillot vert of Peter Sagan.  At the top of the penultimate climb Dylan Teuns led out Giulio Ciccone who took maximum points ahead of Teuns and Wellens.  The four riders now had just 18km to go and a lead of just over 4 minutes in hand.  The final climb was officially 7km in length, and heading in towards the climb it was Teuns and Ciccone who looked visibly strongest; with Meurisse and Wellens looking more like they were simply holding on for as long as possible.

Bennett well-positioned as breakaway flirt with catch

10km from the finish the gap was 4.08mins, with George Bennett sat nicely in the peloton.  With the speed of the GC group it was now less certain that the breakaway group would be fighting for the win, and more and more possible that at least the yellow jersey would go to someone in the main field; and possibly George Bennett.  Movistar continued to mop up breakaway remnants, with Nikias Arndt caught as the break reached 7km to go.

Dylan Teuns immediately made his way to the front of the break to set the pace, fighting not just against his breakaway companions, but against the time gap to the peloton.  6km from the finish the gap had come down below 4 minutes to 3.53mins, the signs were promising that the break could hold on but it would be a very close run thing.  Alejandro Valverde, in the world champion’s jersey hit the front of the GC group, thinning it out bit by bit; but significantly taking a good chunk of time out of the break’s lead.

George Bennett finished 18 seconds ahead of teammate Steven Kruijswijk and still holds 4th place overall, photo Sirotti

Simon Yates was among the prominent names to drop off the pace as the break’s lead went down to 3.16mins with 5km to go.  Julian Alaphilippe was still in the group and looking like he might be able to keep his yellow jersey at least from passing to the breakaway; but it was the attacks in the GC group he had to be mindful of.  

Landa attacks GC riders, Teuns and Ciccone press on

4.4km from the finish Wellens finally cracked, leaving Ciccone to lead Teuns and Meurisse.  Team Ineos had taken control of the main field with Michal Kwiatkowski leading Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas.  Still the time gap continued to tumble as Meurisse lost contact with Teuns and Ciccone, leaving two riders in contention as the peloton continued to close.  George Bennett remained in the main field in the second half of the group, but looking comfortable as the pace from Ineos really put off any attacks until French national champion Warren Barguil made a move.

The Frenchman gained a little time but then Mikel Landa went on the offensive.  The Spaniard struck hard as Kwiatkowski was put under pressure; but classic Ineos, he wasn’t in a hurry to bring him back.  Landa was committed though, gaining an 18 second lead over the GC group as Teuns and Ciccone showed the first signs of playing games.  It was a risky strategy as Landa was piling on the pace.

Under the 3km banner for the GC group, Groupama-FDJ made their way forward, possibly dissatisfied with the gap to Landa, but equally possibly lining up an attack from a strong-looking Pinot.  Barguil was back in the group and soon dropped alongside former stage winner Fabio Aru as the gap to Landa began to close.  Teuns and Ciccone continued to press on towards 1km to go.  With a 2.15min lead under the banner the stage honours were secure, but now the race hit the unknown dirt section that had yet to be explored.

Alaphilippe digs deep but loses yellow

Landa was picking up riders but Groupama-FDJ were picking up the distance between themselves and the Spaniard.  Up ahead Teuns took the lead with 400m to go and began to put pressure on Ciccone as the race went back to the tar seal.  It would be a big push to the line from a long way out for Teuns, with Ciccone valiantly trying to hold on, but with just under 100m to go Ciccone cracked.  Teuns took off to take the stage win in seeming disbelief, with Ciccone second and needing 1.35mins to take the yellow jersey from Alaphilippe.

Giulio Ciccone, KOM winner at the Giro d’Italia, is now the leader of the Tour de France, photo Sirotti

Alaphilippe, however, had ideas of his own, attacking on the dirt section and putting daylight between himself and the rest of the GC group as Geraint Thomas made move to distance the rest of the GC contenders.  It was a masterful move from Thomas and a statement to the rest of the field as Thomas caught Alaphilippe who was fading in the latter metres. 

As Meurisse crossed the line third at 1.05mins and Thomas stopped the clock at 1.44mins back, Pinot and Alaphilippe crossed the line 1.46mins back, with Alaphilippe losing the yellow jersey by 11 seconds.  The clock continued to tick over though with time gaps really opening up.  Egan Bernal crossed the line 9 seconds behind his teammate Thomas, with Adam Yates and Dan Martin a further 5 seconds back.  

Significantly for Jumbo-Visma, George Bennett’s climb to the line saw him cross the finish alongside Rigoberto Uran and Michael Woods of EF Education First; 2.02mins behind Teuns and 18 seconds behind Geraint Thomas.  Bennett’s teammate, Steven Kruijswijk faded in the final stages, crossing the line 17 seconds later.

The result means that overall Bennett holds his fourth place overall, now 47 seconds behind Giulio Ciccone, 41 seconds behind Alaphilippe and 15 seconds behind Dylan Teuns.  Geraint Thomas climbs into the top five behind Bennett, 4 seconds ahead of Bernal, with Thibaut Pinot moving from 13th to 7th.  Steven Kruijswijk drops from 3rd to 8th at 1.04mins, with Michael Woods at 1.13mins and Rigoberto Uran at 1.15mins completing the top ten.

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