Without Sagan and Cavendish, Kittel eases to Tour stage win

TROYES, France (AP) On long, mostly flat sultry stages like Thursday's, all Chris Froome and the other leaders in the Tour de France want to do is take it easy.

Let the sprinters have their day in the sun and prepare for the next mountain stages this weekend.

Until a beach umbrella floats across the pack.

That was the only incident of note amid hours-long stretches of uneventful cycling during Stage 6, which was won with ease by German sprinter Marcel Kittel.

''There was a bit of wind and the parasol took off and ended up in the road,'' said Froome, who had to veer out of the way. ''That's the Tour.''

Otherwise, Froome said, he spent the day chatting with other riders and admiring the views as the peloton rode into champagne country and through Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, the hometown of France's wartime hero and former president, Gen. Charles de Gaulle.

''That's the most relaxing day in the Tour I've ever had,'' Froome said after five hours in the saddle. ''I actually quite enjoy these long days.''

At the conclusion of the mostly flat 216-kilometer (134-mile) leg from Vesoul to Troyes - the race's second-longest stage - Kittel had little trouble in the sprint finish, with Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish both no longer in the race.

As the other contenders bunched together on the right side of the road, Kittel burst forward around them on the left and easily created a comfortable gap allowing him to celebrate as he crossed the line.

It was Kittel's second victory in this year's race and 11th overall in his Tour career.

''I was really confident in my team,'' Kittel said. ''I was also really confident in myself today. There was just a moment when I broke free and started to go ahead.''

Stage 4 winner Arnaud Demare finished second and Andre Greipel was third.

Sagan, the world champion, was disqualified for elbowing Cavendish to the ground two days ago. The fall resulted in Cavendish, who has 30 Tour wins, abandoning the race with a broken shoulder.

Kittel said the absence of Cavendish and Sagan has altered the racing in that their teams are no longer battling out the sprint finishes.

He was repeatedly asked after his win about their absence.

''It's a bit sad that it's all about this decision,'' he said. ''The level that we have here for the sprints is still very, very high.''

A three-man breakaway rode out front for most of the stage. Perrig Quemeneur, Frederik Backaert and Vegard Stake Laengen were caught by the peloton with 3 kilometers to go.

Froome remained 12 seconds ahead of Sky teammate Geraint Thomas and 14 seconds ahead of Fabio Aru of Italy.

Richie Porte in fifth place overall and other riders eyeing victory in Paris on July 23 were simply pleased to get the long, hot stage over without incident.

''It was such a long day. Probably, you know, could have had the same result with half the distance but it's a nice one to get done,'' Porte said.

On such days, Porte said, ''there's nothing to gain but there's so much to lose. ... It was quite a frantic finish.''

The Tour remains in Troyes for the start of Stage 7 on Friday, a 213.5-kilometer (133-mile) leg that again sets up well for sprinters with a finish in the Burgundy wine town of Nuits-Saint-Georges.

Friday is ''another long day and I think the aim of that is just to sap the energy a bit,'' Porte said. ''They sure are long days.''

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