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VIDEO - STAGE 6 PREVIEW

TOUR DE FRANCE 2014

Tour de France stage 6: Greipel sprints to victory

German Andre Greipel sprinted to victory in stage six of the Tour de France on Thursday on a poignant day in which riders snaked their way through World War One battlefields in northern France.

Tour de France stage 6: Greipel sprints to victory
Andre Greipel's win means Germans are dominating the 2014 Tour de France with four sage wins out of five. Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

Andre Greipel returned to form in style by sprinting to victory in Thursday's sixth stage of the Tour de France.

The German continued his country's impressive Tour form by winning the 194km stage from Arras to Reims.

Compatriot Marcel Kittel had won three of the first four stages.

Norway's Alexander Kristoff was second with Samuel Dumoulin of France third.

Race leader Vincenzo Nibali kept hold of the yellow jersey as he and the rest of the overall contenders finished safely in a reduced peloton.

An early four-man breakaway failed to ignite a stage that had a sense of anti-climax following the drama of Wednesday's cobbled stage.

Things only got heated in the final 10km, after the escapees had been caught, when the pace rose and crosswinds contributed to a split in the peloton.

French champion Arnaud Demare was caught out, as well as his compatriot Thibaut Pinot, the top French hope in the general classification.

Having dominated the three previous sprints for stage wins, Kittel seemed to be suffering the effects of a fall on Wednesday while his team were strangely missing from the front of the peloton.

Before the final kilometre he had dropped out of the reckoning.

Without Kittel it was anyone's sprint to win but Greipel, hitherto out of sorts in the sprints, powered through to win his sixth Tour stage.

Stage 6 preview: Thursday's sixth stage takes the riders over 194km from Arras to Reims.

It is set to be a poignant day as it will include commemorations to remember those who died during World War I.

The day's course rides past several famous WWI battlefields, including the Chemin des Dames.

French president François Hollande is due to visit the Tour as it passes that point.

The roadside has also been planted with blue cornflowers especially for the occasion.

The blue cornflower has come to be regarded as the symbol of French WWI infantrymen, known as 'Poilus' (hairy ones) for their youth, virility and courage.

As a mark of remembrance, the white jersey worn by the best young rider in the peloton will, especially for the occasion, be emblazoned with a blue cornflower.

The peloton will pay tribute to former riders who died during the Great War, including three winners, Luxemburger François Faber and Frenchmen Octave Lapize and Lucien Petit-Breton.

Faber, a Francophile, had joined the French Foreign Legion and was killed on the front line on May 9th, 1915, tragically just a day after he found out about the birth of his daughter.

Lapize died in an aerial battle on July 14th, 1917, while Petit-Breton was killed in a car accident while on a mission.

It is part of around 2,000 commemorative events planned in France over the next four years to mark the centenary of World War I (1914-18).

Here's a video preview of stage 6

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TOUR DE FRANCE 2014

Tour de France: Italian Nibali tightens grip

Italian Vincenzo Nibali won stage 18 of the Tour de France on Thursday to put him within touching distance of winning the overall race. By winning his fourth stage Nibali extended his lead over Frenchman Thibaut Pinot to more than seven minutes.

Tour de France: Italian Nibali tightens grip
Italian Vincenzo Nibali wins stage 18 to tighten grip on Tour de France title. Photo: AFP

Vincenzo Nibali confirmed his supremacy at the Tour de France with his fourth stage victory on Thursday.

The 29-year-old Italian won the 18th stage from Pau to the top of the Hautacam climb after 144.5km of mountainous terrain in the Pyrenees.

In doing so the Astana rider increased his overall lead to 7min 10sec ahead of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, who was second on the stage at 1:10.

Pole Rafal Majka, the winner of two mountain stages, was third at 1:12 to secure victory in the King of the Mountains competition

Jean-Christophe Peraud made it two Frenchmen on the podium as he came home fourth at 1:15.

The 37-year-old is just 13sec behind Pinot and 2sec ahead of Alejandro Valverde, who had started the day second.

It means three riders are separated by just 15sec in the battle for second place, which should be decided on Saturday in the 54km time trial.

Although Pinot, 24, is second, he is widely regarded as the weakest of the three against the clock.

American Tejay Van Garderen came home fifth in the same time as Peraud to boost his chances of finishing in the top five overall.

He is sixth and trails 23-year-old Frenchman Romain Bardet by just over two minutes but the American is a far better timetriallist.

Yet Thursday's stage was all about Nibali's total domination as once again he gave a demonstration in the mountains

When he made his attack with 10km of climbing ahead he ate into loan leader  Mikel Nieve's advantage in no time and then simply rode away, gradually and steadily increasing the gap with every kilometre.

Preview: Thursday's unforgiving 144.5km stage 18 includes the behemoths of the Tourmalet and Hautacam mountains to climb, 

"Thursday will be a very hard day, especially after the last two days," said Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde the 34-year-old Movistar leader.

Meanwhile race leader Vincenzo Nibali even admitted he was riding within himself.

"My condition is very good and I'm ready to push right to the end but when I get to the end of a stage I'm not giving everything because I don't have to, and I've also had an eye on the next stage," said Nibali.

However, he admitted it would have been different had the best riders been there.

Reigning champion Chris Froome crashed out on the fifth stage with a broken hand and wrist while two-time former winner Alberto Contador broke his shinbone in a fall on the 10th stage on Bastille Day.

"If Chris Froome or Alberto were riding I would need to push much more but then I would also have to manage the race differently and play more of a waiting game," added the Astana team leader.

"When they attack they are more explosive so I would have to be careful.

"I have a lot of respect for these riders."

Here's a video preview of the stage from Global Cycling Network.

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