The Belgian superstar got another chance to sprint after taking out the win into Privas on Stage 5. As a reduced peloton reached the end of the stage, it was clear that van Aert would be one of the fastest riders present and he duly delivered with a powerful sprint over the top of Edvald Boasson Hagen (NTT Pro Cycling) in second with Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-Vital) in third.
"I didn't expect it this morning so it was more of a surprise today," said van Aert. "I don't think anyone expected it to be this hard."
The race split apart early, with Sagan's BORA-hansgrohe blowing the race to pieces to advantage Sagan in the points jersey competition. It got progressively harder from there, as the race split again 35 kilometres from the finish.
"I have to say it was an impressive stage by BORA-hansgrohe, they went flat out on the first KOM," said van Aert. "They made sure a lot of the sprinters were dropped already and after that it was always hectic everyone feared the crosswinds."
Chasing more points to retain his polka dot jersey, Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R) took off up the road from kilometre zero, Michael Schär (CCC) followed and it seemed briefly like it would be an sleepy start to the stage with the break allowed to go easily.
However, BORA-hansgrohe had other ideas and applied the pressure on the climb of the Côte de Luzençon, splintering the peloton. Major sprinters including Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Australian Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) were dropped from the main group in the space of 10 kilometres as Schär then Cosnefroy were swallowed up.
BORA-hansgrohe drove the hard pace up to the first intermediate sprint, with the intention of outmanoeuvring Bennett in the sprint standings.
However, that work was a bit undermined as Matteo Trentin (CCC) bested Sagan at the intermediate sprint for the 20 points, moving him to 91 points. By that stage, and after 58 kilometres raced, Ewan was around six minutes out the back in the third group on the road and Sam Bennett at two and a half minutes which saw Sagan move virtually back into the green jersey, on 134 points.
Without Ewan to look after, De Gendt launched off the front of the race with 94 kilometres to the finish but had to fight for every seconds advantage. He built his lead out to a maximum of 50 seconds before starting to be reeled back in.
BORA-hansgrohe picked up the pace again with 55kms to go as the race prepared to hit the cross-tail wind, reducing De Gendt's advantage quickly.
De Gendt was caught with 36 kilometres remaining, as Michal Kwiatkowski (INEOS Grenadiers) put the pressure on at the front, splitting the peloton. Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) was one of those caught out, stuck in a group with fellow contenders Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) the most significant riders consigned to the second group.
The reduced peloton had a messy sprint to the line, with Sagan losing his chain during the sprint, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) unclipping in the finale and coming together with Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo). Van Aert ignored the commotion to take his third career Tour de France stage win.
The second group of contenders was led home by Pogačar, one minute and 21 seconds down on the front bunch.
Bennett and Ewan ultimately finished the day over 14 minutes down, along with about half of the peloton.
The Tour de France continues with Stage 8 as the race ventures into the Pyrenees, cresting the hard climbs of the Port de Bales and the Col de Peyresourde. Watch LIVE on SBS and SBS On Demand from 9:30pm AEST.