The Mûr-de-Bretagne, a 2km long climb with an average gradient of 6.9% and pitches of up to 10%, was the talking point of stage 6 as the peloton had to tackle the tough ascent to the finish line twice in the final 20km of the race.
Earlier in the stage, five riders formed the day’s breakaway after attacking right off the bat and opening up an advantage that reached the five-minute mark after 20km of the 181km course.
It was once again BMC Racing Team’s Patrick Bevin who set the early tempo at the front of the bunch as soon as the leaders went clear and he limited the gap to inside seven minutes heading over the Côte de Ploudiry, the first of four categorized climbs.
Crosswinds on an open section of road heading into the final 100km of the stage saw the peloton split with Quick-Step Floors moving up to the front to drive the pace as BMC Racing Team’s strong positioning made sure all eight riders made the cut in the first part of the peloton.
The bunch came back together approaching the 72km to go mark but as a result of the injection of pace, the gap to the leaders started to fall quickly before settling again at two minutes.
With the chase heating up once more, the peloton eventually crossed the finish line at the top of the Mûr-de-Bretagne to begin the final 16km circuit altogether after catching the last remaining breakaway rider just before the summit.
Jack Bauer (Mitchelton-SCOTT) tried his luck by going solo at the front of the race just after the bell rang while behind, Van Avermaet and Porte sat well-placed in the first few positions of the reduced bunch, tucked neatly in the wheel of Stefan Küng.
The late attacker was caught with just under 5km to go as the continued increase in pace saw more riders falling off the back, but Van Avermaet and Porte remained poised and ready at the front for the battle to come.
As the road kicked up for the final time and the first moves began, Porte was hot on the heels of his rivals with Van Avermaet also sticking with the heavily whittled-down front group.
The decisive attack of the day came from Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) who was able to hold of a select chasing group, led by Porte, in the final kilometer to take the stage win.
Porte and Van Avermaet crossed the line side by side in 11th and 12th place respectively which was enough to secure the current race leader a fourth consecutive day in the yellow jersey.
A reshuffle of the General Classification saw Porte move up to 11th overall, 53 seconds behind his teammate, while Tejay van Garderen, who finished just behind the first group, now sits third, five seconds back.
Quotes From the Finish Line:
Greg Van Avermaet:
“It was a great ride by Martin and I was expecting something like that from him. He is good at picking the right moment. I think if you win a stage like this after attacking from that point then you are the strongest guy. We tried to do a good job and Richie tried to set a good tempo for himself and to try and take some seconds over the rest of the contenders. I just hung in there as well as possible to maybe try to sprint but in the end, I had no power anymore. It was a super hard final climb and the tempo never slowed down. But I am happy that I could stay up there and only a few guys could hold the tempo on the climb. Overall, it was a good day and I have another day in yellow to look forward to.”
“For sure, I am now thinking about the stage to Roubaix. It’s going to be a hectic stage and maybe the hardest one of the week but first, we have two stages to get through and you always have to concentrate in the Tour. Something can always happen but I hope to go into Roubaix in yellow. It’s the closest stage to Belgium and I like the cobblestones so, let’s go for it.”
“Today’s stage was a nice one to tick off. Yesterday and today were pretty stressful days coming into them but we didn’t lose time and we put time into some guys. For me, I got stuck on the front a bit but once you are there, you might as well stay there. I don’t have the punch to drop off and come back. Greg kept the jersey too so it was a good day for us.”
“It was a good GC day and it will be interesting now with Team Sky to see if they back Geraint Thomas or Froomey.”