The Deceuninck-QuickStep sprint train went head-to-head with Alpecin-Fenix from a kilometre out from the finish on the wide roads into the centre of the city finish. On opposite sides of the road initially, with teams picking their choice of who to follow, the two sides converged to the middle of the road.
Cavendish left the wheel of his leadout man Michael Morkov to grab a bit more time out of the wind before the impressive surge of Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) finally faded.
Cavendish jumped from the Alpecin-Fenix train to power past Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) to win Stage 6 of the Tour de France ahead of Philipsen and Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic).
"It was nice, wow," said Cavendish. "It’s 10 years since I last won here, it’s pretty special and in pretty similar circumstances. There’s so many strong sprint teams all looking to come to the front. To take it on is a big ask, you always get swamped at the finish.
“Michael left the left side open for me to go, the wind was coming from the right. I wanted just a split second longer in the wheels before I went. I had to switch trains and go from there. I’m so happy with that."
Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) kept the race lead after assisting in the finish leadout for Philipsen, and will head into a hard Stage 7 with every chance of keeping the yellow jersey.
[tdf widget="tourleaders" stage="6"]
The 160-kilometre stage from Tours to Châteauroux started off very fast, with an elite group forging clear in the early part of the race. The early attackers were Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), Greg Van Avermaet (AG2R Citroen), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix), Soren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM), Georg Zimmermann (Intermarche-Wanty Gobert), Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo) and Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe).
With a group filled with top exponents of flatland riding and a number of riders from other teams with notable sprinters, it was a big problem for Groupama-FDJ and Arkea-Samsic, both of which had sprinters keen to contest the sprint finish. With the gap out to a minute at it's highest point, Stefan Kung, the runner-up from yesterday's time trial hit the front of the race along with his Groupama-FDJ teammates.
There was a tense battle over the next 30 kilometres until the cooperation fell apart in the move, with Soren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM) and Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix) deciding that it would be best to disrupt the escape's cohesion in service of their respective sprinters, Cees Bol and Tim Merlier.
The gap was brought back, but van Avermaet wasn't about to give up and attacked again. Roger Kluge (Lotto Soudal) jumped clear from the peloton and passed the former breakaway in pursuit of van Avermaet. He joined up with the reigning Olympic road race champion and the pair settled into a rhythm at the front of affairs.
That was largely how things stayed for the majority of the stage, with the intermediate sprint providing the most interest with a tussle between Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) and Michael Morkov (Deceuninck-Quickstep) very nearly seeing a crash, while Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) claimed the most points.
Van Avermaet and Kluge battled hard all the way into the finish, eventually caught with 2.5 kilometres to go as the sprint trains came to the fore. Deceuninck-Quickstep were the furthest to the front in the entry to the final kilometres and led into the final kilometre.
From there the race split into two, with Deceuninck-QuickStep and Alpecin-Fenix split at the head of affairs on opposite sides of the road. It all came together in the end with the foremost positioned riders the ones who contended for the victory, with Cavendish proving the quickest.
The Tour de France continues with Stage 7, the longest of the race at 249 kilometres, with a hilly kick in the back section of the stage that looks set to suit the Ardennes classics specialists. Watch on SBS, SBS On Demand from 2030 AEST and earlier on the SKODA Tour Tracker from 1850 AEST.