The 190.5km stage was one for the sprinters, with Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) taking the win in Montauban, edging out Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) and Dan McLay (Fortuneo-Vital Concept).
Van Avermaet and his BMC Racing Team team-mates spent the day towards the front of the peloton, keeping a two-rider breakaway safely down the road, until the sprinters’ teams worked to pull them back and set the stage for a sprint finish.
“It couldn’t have gone better I think,” said Van Avermaet. “It was a beautiful day, not too hilly, beautiful weather, no stress and just a hard final.
“There were a lot of Belgian people on the road on vacation with flags and they supported me really well so it was a wonderful day for me. We are a cycling country so it’s really nice to have a few Belgians up there in the final and a stage win with me, and the Yellow Jersey. It was one of the best days of my career so far.”
Van Avermaet rolled through the finish with the main GC riders in 28th, four seconds behind the sprinters who launched a powerful attack on the line. He holds the overall lead by five minutes and 11 seconds over Julian Alaphilippe (Ettix-QuickStep) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who sits in third at five minutes and 13 seconds.
“It was a pretty calm day but it was too hectic to go for the sprint. I was not recovered form yesterday either so I could not go for the sprint. But also with the stress it was just about getting safely over the line,” said Van Avermaet.
“I tried to recover as well as possible from yesterday. I will try to keep the jersey tomorrow on the last climb and I hope that I might. We’ll see how the legs feel tomorrow but I’m going to try and keep it for as long as possible. Five minutes is a lot but not so much in a mountain stage. We will see tomorrow.”
Stage 7, 162.5km to Lac de Payolle, will see the peloton tackle the first big mountain stage of this year’s Tour. With a Category 1 summit seven kilometres before the finish it will be an exciting battle for the general classification contenders.