Stage winner Andre Greipel of Germany celebrates on the podium of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Stage winner Andre Greipel of Germany celebrates on the podium of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

By Julien Pretot
MONTPELLIER, France | Thu Jul 4, 2013 9:55pm IST

(Reuters) – Germany’s Andre Greipel timed his final burst to perfection when he won a mass sprint to take the sixth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.

Greipel, of the Lotto team, beat Slovakian Peter Sagan and fellow German Marcel Kittel at the end of a 176.5-ride from Aix-en-Provence. Briton Mark Cavendish, winner of the fifth stage, came home fourth after a crash with some 30 kilometres left.

Andre Greipel of Germany celebrates crossing the finish line ahead Peter Sagan of Slovakia, second place, center left, Marcel Kittel of Germany, third place, rear, and Mark Cavendish of Britain, far left and fourth place, to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Andre Greipel of Germany celebrates crossing the finish line ahead Peter Sagan of Slovakia, second place, center left, Marcel Kittel of Germany, third place, rear, and Mark Cavendish of Britain, far left and fourth place, to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

South African Daryl Impey took the overall lead, becoming the first African to wear the yellow jersey.

Pre-race favourites Chris Froome of Britain, seventh overall eight seconds off the pace, and Alberto Contador, 11th six seconds further back, finished safely in the bunch.

Daryl Impey of South Africa, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, celebrates on the podium of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Daryl Impey of South Africa, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, celebrates on the podium of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

“I told the guys to wait as long as possible and everybody to stay together,” said Greipel. “We hit the front with two kilometres to go and I think people can see we have some horsepower. I’m really proud of this team.”

Greipel’s effort was even more impressive because team mate Jurgen van den Broeck, fourth overall last year, became the first high-profile casualty when he could not start because of a knee injury he sustained in a pile-up on Wednesday.

France’s Nacer Bouhanni and Swede Frederik Kessiakoff, who were also involved in Wednesday’s crash, pulled out during the stage. Nairo Quintana had his left knee treated by the race doctor following a crash after the Colombian climber misjudged a turn after 55 kilometres.

Cadel Evans of Australia, center, rides in the pack during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Cadel Evans of Australia, center, rides in the pack during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Luis Angel Mate powered away from the pack and built a five-minute lead, but the Spaniard soon realised he had no chance on his own against the peloton. The Cofidis rider stopped his effort after one hour and was swallowed by the bunch.

With strong winds blowing on the way to Montpellier, tension was palpable in the peloton as top contenders looked to stay in front to avoid being caught in a possible split.

The pack passes under an aqueduct during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

The pack passes under an aqueduct during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Cavendish, of Omega Pharma Quicke-Step, fell with 34 kilometres to go. There was no team mate to drag him back into the peloton and the Briton was forced to bunny-hop over roundabouts and make his own way through the team cars.

Cavendish had no juice left for the final sprint and he could not match Greipel’s power.

The pack passes lines of trees during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

The pack passes lines of trees during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 176.5 kilometers starting in Aix-en-Provence and finishing in Montpellier, southern France, Thursday July 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)

Sagan (Cannondale) retained the green jersey for the points classification with 159 points ahead of Greipel (130) and Cavendish (119).

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Robert Woodward)