5 things to know about Tour de France

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Associated Press

Posted on July 4, 2013 at 9:02 AM

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — The Tour de France enters its sixth stage on Thursday. Five things to know:

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1. A REAL SPRINT FINISH: Wednesday's Stage 5, a long, mostly flat ride from Cagnes-sur-Mer to Marseille, lived up to its billing as well-suited for sprinters. Mark Cavendish of Britain made it look easy as he gained his 24th career Tour stage victory after the 142-mile trek, ahead of fellow speedsters including Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Germany's Andre Greipel. It was the first real showdown among the main sprint specialists this year: Two rolling, hilly rides in Corsica and a late crash in Saturday's opening stage depleted the field of sprinters in those earlier legs.

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2. AMERICANS DOWNED: Sprinter-friendly stages are often crash-marred affairs, and three of the five Americans still competing were among many riders who went down — though their Tour hopes did not appear too much in jeopardy. Tejay van Garderen spoke of his "stupid crash," after he hit a corner while grabbing a water bottle from a BMC teammate. Garmin-Sharp's Tom Danielson, with a knee bloody and his face and body covered in soot and axle grease, said he tumbled onto his bad shoulder in a "ridiculous" crash after getting hit from behind in the last few hundred yards, the site of a group spill. Christian Vande Velde, who entered the Garmin bus with the back of his jersey ripped, suffered a blow to the head, a race medical report said. American Ted King, who crashed in Stage 1, rode too slowly during Tuesday's team time-trial due to his injuries and missed the time cut by 7 seconds, forcing him out of the race.

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3. FRENCH DROUGHT CONTINUES: Nearly a week into the Tour, France appears no closer to finding an heir to Bernard Hinault, who collected the last of his five titles in 1985. That decade opened with five straight wins for the French as Hinault battled countryman Laurent Fignon for supremacy. So far this year, French teams have been largely content to place riders into breakaways. That's what happened Wednesday when the Europcar team sent out two riders into a break that was ultimately gobbled up by the pack just before the finish line. The top-placed French rider now is Sylvain Chavanel, in fifth, though he is not expected to hold up against the main race favorites in the mountains.

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4. FRANCE'S SENATE BENDS: A French Senate panel investigating doping in sports has decided to push back the release of its findings until after the Tour. Original plans for a July 18 release sparked a hue and cry from some Tour riders who believed it could overshadow the race. On Tuesday, the panel said it will now publish its findings on July 24 — three days after the Tour finishes in Paris — after recognizing that the publication could give the false "impression" that it is concentrating solely on doping in cycling, which it is not. Cycling is fighting drug use as it struggles to get past a legacy of widespread doping — especially during the mid-90s and 2000s, the era when Lance Armstrong won seven Tour titles before being stripped of them last year for serial doping.

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5. GERRANS' ERRANDS: While Orica GreenEdge rider Simon Gerrans faces little likely threat to his yellow jersey in Thursday's flat sixth stage — which he could even win — the Australian is unlikely to still be in the leader's shirt after Stage 8 on Saturday. That is the first real mountain test of the Tour, which features two brutal climbs back to back: an ascent up Col de Pailheres — one of the hardest climbs in cycling — followed by a climb to the finish line at Ax 3 Domaines ski station. After that, Tour contenders Chris Froome of Britain or Spain's Alberto Contador could well be in yellow.

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