Mark Cavendish made it two straight Tour de France stage victories on Friday, leading a sprint for the line as the main title contenders finished in a closely trailing pack.
The 25-year-old native of Britain's Isle of Man raised his hands in celebration at the end of the hot, 227.5-kilometre sixth stage from Montargis to Gueugnon, which was mostly flat and favoured sprinters.
The HTC Columbia sprinter earned his 12th career Tour stage victory and fifth in all races this year -- clocking five hours 37 minutes 42 seconds to win ahead of U.S. rider Tyler Farrar and Alessandro Petacchi of Italy.
Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal finished 109th but held on to his fourth-place spot in the overall classification, 46 seconds behind.
"The boys are getting closer, nice effort everyone!," Hesjedal tweeted after the stage. "Ty [Farrar] is getting better. I made it through the last 3 days feelin good! Ready for the weekend."
Hesjedal and Farrar race for the Garmins-Transitions team.
The stage victory comes a day after Cavendish broke down in tears after winning Stage 5, experiencing a sense of redemption after the talented sprinter failed to win a stage earlier in the race.
"I'm really happy. I'm speaking better today because I was pretty emotional yesterday," Cavendish said.
The sprint attempt by Farrar suggested the Garmin-Transitions rider's condition has improved since breaking his left wrist in one of numerous crashes on rain-slicked roads in Monday's Stage 2.
"I'm still not 100 per cent," Farrar said in French on French television. "Maybe I'm stupid not to stop after the break, but today I was feeling better."
Thor Hushovd of Norway, who wears the best sprinter's green jersey that Cavendish covets, finished 10th, and expressed disappointment that he wasn't able to keep up. He has 118 points in the green-jersey classification chase -- only four more than Petacchi.
"If I want to win this jersey I can't continue like this," Hushovd said.
Under the rules of the UCI, the international cycling union, race organizers handed down fines of 200 Swiss francs [C$195X] against Spanish rider Carlos Barredo and Portugal's Rui Alberto Costa, who brawled with each other and tussled on the ground after the stage finish.
The main title contenders and the pack crossed three seconds after Cavendish. Defending champion Alberto Contador was 28th, seven-time champion Lance Armstrong was 38th, and overall race leader Fabian Cancellara was 41st.
The top standings didn't change: Swiss rider Cancellara retained the yellow jersey that he has worn every day but one this year; Spaniard Contador stayed ninth overall; and Armstrong kept his 18th spot. Cadel Evans of Australia, a two-time Tour runner-up and the highest-placed potential title contender, is third -- 39 seconds behind Cancellara.
Toronto's Michael Barry was 78th Friday and sits 61st overall.
Barring a crash or mishap, overall standings rarely change much on such a flat stage. Strong climbers are poised to take centre stage once the three-week race enters the Alps on Sunday.
Riders get their biggest taste of climbing at the race this year in Saturday's seventh stage, a 165.5-kilometre trek along six low-to mid-grade climbs in the Jura range from Tournus to Station des Rousses.