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Peter Sagan got on the 2012 Tour de France roll of honour for the third time Friday, claiming the sixth stage with Fabian Cancellera holding onto the leaders' yellow jersey.
Sagan, riding for the Liquigas team, was adding this 210km ride from Epernay to his wins in the first and third stages on what is the Slovakian champion's debut in the race.
Sagan is placed eighth in the general classifications behind Swiss ace Cancellera, with British challenger Bradley Wiggins seven seconds behind in second.
A day ahead of the first climbing stage where the first selections in the peloton are expected to be made, some pre-race contenders were left rueing losing time after being caught in a mass pile-up.
As the peloton chased a four-man breakaway a crash on a straight but tight section of road around 26 km from the finish forced several riders to hit the tarmac and grass verges and left even more delayed by the melee.
A peloton of around 50 riders, which included most of the overall favourites including defending champion Cadel Evans and Wiggins but not stage contender Mark Cavendish, forged on regardless.
Behind, it was chaos with dozens of riders held up and most waiting for new bikes and wheels from their support cars.
Others, like American Tom Danielson and Davide Vigano of Italy, were in no rush to resume. After sitting or lying on the road in pain, they were forced to pull out due to their injuries.
Among the big losers were Luxembourg's Frank Schleck (RadioShack), Thomas Voeckler of France (Europcar), Italy's Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and Canada's Giro d'Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin).
All were delayed by the crash and left with a two-minute deficit to the chasing peloton up the road ahead as they closed in on frontrunners David Zabriskie (Garmin), Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank) and Romain Zingle (Cofidis), with Sagan emerging to prevail in the sprint for the line in Metz. – AFP