Mark Cavendish is quite fond of Châteauroux. It was here in the sleepy birthtown of Gerard Depardieu where a fresh-faced Cavendish, aged 23, won his first ever Tour stage in 2008, and in Châteauroux again where he sprinted to his seventeenth triumph three years later in 2011.
It may have taken another decade, but the Manx Missile completed a hat-trick on Thursday with his latest win in the capital of the Indre department – his second of this Tour and the 32nd of his career.
Benefitting from a textbook leadout from his Deceuninck-QuickStep train, Cavendish powered past Belgium’s Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) on the home straight and kept France’s Nacer Bouhanni (Arkea-Samsic) at bay to write another chapter in one of sport’s most absorbing and astonishing comebacks in recent years.
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Frenchman Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) and Slovakia’s Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) completed the top five ahead of Dutchman Cees Bol (Team DSM), Belgian duo Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), the Australian Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) and Denmark’s Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo).
Successive sprint victories see Cavendish, 36, extend his lead over Philipsen in the green jersey standings to 46 points, with Bouhanni three points back in third. Philipsen’s teammate Mathieu van der Poel retained the yellow jersey after a GC stalemate following the shake-up witnessed from Wednesday’s time trial.
Dutch debutant Van der Poel still leads defending champion Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) by eight seconds on GC, with Van Aert third at 30 seconds, as the race hits the hills of the Morvan range on Friday ahead of a weekend in the Alps.

'Textbook sprinting' Brian Smith's analysis of Cavendish's Tour de France stage 6 win

An unexpectedly chaotic start to the short 160km stage saw eight riders ping clear in the opening moments, forcing many teams into a frantic chase behind.
Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jonas Rickaert (Alpecin-Fenix), Greg van Avermaet (Ag2R-Citroen), Soren Kragh Andersen (Team DSM), Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Sooudal) and Georg Zimmermann (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) were the plucky escapees, combining to build up a maximum lead of just under a minute before the panic alarms were set off behind.
Without a man in the move, the Groupama-FDJ team of misfiring sprinter Demare took up the chase and they were soon joined by Bouhanni’s Arkea-Samsic and Qhubeka-Assos as the race rampaged along the Loire valley past a succession of sumptuous chateaux.
The break momentarily split in two before Asgreen dragged the second faction back into the game. But with the peloton closing in, the reigning Olympic champion Van Avermaet zipped clear to try his luck from distance. If the Belgian veteran had hoped to be joined by a number of counter-attackers, he would have been dismayed to hear that just one rider – the German Roger Kluge (Lotto Soudal) thought it worth his time to join the party.
Kluge caught Van Avermaet with 120km remaining with the duo holding a gap of just under two minutes on a peloton which enjoyed a collective easing up and outward sigh after a challenging opening hour of racing. Van Avermaet went over the Cat.4 Cote de Saint-Aignan ahead of Kluge to take the only KOM point on offer before doubling up at the intermediate sprint.
When the pack came through the sprint at Lucay-le-Male just 45 seconds down, it was a feisty affair which saw Sonny Colbrelli come out on top – the Italian remonstrating with other riders after what was a heated tussle for the remaining green jersey points.
Most notably, the Danish veteran Michael Morkov (Deceuninck-QuickStep) closed the door on Sagan by the barriers – earning him some dagger eyes in the aftermath – while the green jersey Cavendish clattered with Frenchman Bouhanni.
But the race quickly settled down once again ahead of the business end of the stage, with the leading duo – always on to a hiding to nothing in the sunshine of central France – kept on a tight leash. The catch, however, came very late – the gap swelling from just 10 seconds with 20km to go back up to 40 seconds with 10km remaining. When it eventually occurred, with just 2km remaining, Groupama had been delivered a blow after Demare’s pilot Jacopo Guarnieri had crashed out on a roundabout.
After Denmark’s Asgreen had monitored the early break and Belgium’s Tim Declercq had helped dispose of the breakaway, QuickStep’s team effort continued with the world champion Julian Alaphilippe burying himself on the front heading towards the final kilometre.

'Don't say the name!' - Mark Cavendish relishes stage win and refuses to mention Eddy Merckx record

The peloton then split in two as Alpecin-Fenix set up their train on the right, with QuickStep sticking to the left. Both flanks came together after Davide Ballerini handed over the reins to Morkov, who duly delivered his man Cavendish onto the back wheel of Merlier.
Cavendish powered past the Stage 3 winner and then slightly closed the door as he zipped past Philipsen to take an emotional win despite a late surge by Bouhanni and compatriot Demare. Merlier managed to stay upright despite touching both Cavendish and teammate Philipsen, but faded to seventh.
The race’s in-form sprinter now finds himself just two wins shy of Eddy Merckx’s all-time Tour stage record. To add a 33rd he will have to get through the Alps and rest up ahead of Tuesday’s Stage 10 to Valence. Friday’s Stage 7 is the longest leg of the race – a 249km ride from Verzon to Le Creusot where five lower-category climbs in a testing final third will perhaps call time on Van der Poel’s stellar stint in yellow.
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