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Tour de France: Chris Froome ready for battle to keep yellow jersey

Tour de France: Chris Froome ready for battle to keep yellow jersey

"I have it in my focus but for now what is most important is getting those victories in the sprints, they give you a lot of advantage", he said.

There is a gradual crescendo to the climbing in this Tour; after Wednesday's mountain top finish, on Saturday the screw turns up another notch with third- and second-category ascents before the first-category climb to the Combe de Laisia Les Molunes, 12km from the finish at Les Rousses.

And Kittel also wrenched the green jersey, which he held for two days earlier in the Tour, back from Arnaud Demare, who could manage only 11th.

Marcel Kittel burst through to win a bunch sprint at the end of the sixth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, while Australia's Michael Matthews finished eighth.

"I'd never climbed it before but of course I saw that last climb on the Internet when Chris (Froome) won in 2012 and Nibali in 2014, so that's why I made a decision to attack with 3km to go", said Aru.

Tasmanian BMC Racing rider Richie Porte retained fifth position after stage six of the Tour de France. The fall resulted in Cavendish, who has 30 Tour wins, abandoning the race with a broken shoulder.

"The situation is different to the last years for sure", he said, referring to Sagan winning the green jersey in each of the last five years.

France Cycling Tour de France

He was repeatedly asked after his win about their absence.

On a sweltering day in which the mercury pushed the high 30s, a breakaway of three riders - Frenchman Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie), Norway's Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE Team Emirates) and Belgian Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) - rode clear of the peloton in the opening kilometre.

Aru is third 14 seconds off the pace while Porte, last year's runner-up Romain Bardet, twice victor Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana trail Froome by at least 39 seconds.

Porte moved up to fifth at 39sec, with Quintana ninth at 54sec. "It wasn't very long [160km], but they raced all-out, all day". The whole day was a nervous one in the peloton. "I was so close", he said.

On such days, Porte said, "there's nothing to gain but there's so much to lose".

The Tour remains in Troyes for the start of Stage 7 on Friday, a 213.5-kilometer (133-mile) leg that again sets up well for sprinters with a finish in the Burgundy wine town of Nuits-Saint-Georges.

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