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  Friday, 12 July, 2002, 15:46 GMT 16:46 UK
Zabel shows class
Race leader Igor Gonzalez Galdeano sports the yellow jersey during stage six of Le Tour
Galdeano's yellow jersey stayed out of trouble
Erik Zabel came up with one of his great sprints to fend off all rivals in a testing uphill climax to stage six of the Tour de France.

The German, who leads the race on points, was made to work very hard for his victory in a mass finish at the Normandy town of Alencon.

But he had enough speed to pip Oscar Freire and Robbie McEwen to the line.


It's a revenge on the sprinters who wait on my backwheel like Freire or McEwen
Erik Zabel

It was Zabel's 12th stage win in cycling's premier race, a total that puts him level with Tour legends Lance Armstrong and Mario Cipollini among active cyclists.

Riders from all teams had done their best to ensure that stage six did not come down to a battle of the fast men, launching wave-on-wave of attacks earlier in the day.

But a vigilant peloton reeled everyone in, determined to avoid a repeat of stage five, when Jaan Kirsipuu led a breakaway of five men home ahead of the main pack.

Friday's 124-mile (199 kilometre) stage was marred by two crashes, one of which forced Alessio rider Alexandre Shefer to abandon the Tour with some nasty injuries to his face.

British hope David Millar was involved in both incidents but recovered to finish - after seeking some attention from the race doctor.

David Millar was lucky to avoid injury on stage six of the Tour de France
Millar: Involved in two crashes

Defending champion Armstrong was in commanding form, ordering the peloton to slow when current Tour leader Igor Gonzalez Galdeano made a brief stop.

Both men finished safely as Galdeano kept hold of the yellow jersey for another day.

Zabel was quick to heap praise on his team-mates after his huge win and claimed he had taken some revenge on other sprinters in the Tour.

"For sure I started the Tour with a lot of pressure because of the absence in the team of Jan Ullrich," he said.

"This is a team victory. We had one man in the breakaway of the day and did not have to chase. As a result, Danilo Hondo and Gian-Matteo Fagnini [Zabel's lead-out men] were not tired and did a great job.

"It's a revenge on the sprinters who wait on my backwheel like Freire or McEwen."

Saturday's seventh stage of the Tour de France takes competitors the 176km from Bagnoles-de-l'Orne to Avranches.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Five Live's Simon Brotherton
"Zabel just pipped Oscar Freire"
Australia's Robbie McEwen
"We did all the hard work today"
All the actiion from the world's greatest bike race

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