|Team Sky rider Edvald Boasson Hagen celebrates his maiden Tour win, and his team's, on the podium [EPA]
Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway led a sprint to win the rain-splattered sixth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday. Compatriot Thor Hushovd finished in third to retain the yellow jersey for the fifth consecutive day.
The pack battled both slippery roads and brisk winds over the hilly 226.5 kilometer ride across northwest France into Normandy – the longest stage in the race this year.
Hagen, a sprint specialist with Team Sky, whizzed out of the barrelling pack with about 200 meters left and held on, jutting his arms in the air as he crossed the line for his first Tour stage victory.
"I really surprised myself," Hagen said.
"Lots of people say that I'm a talented guy, so it's nice to show it by winning a stage."
Matt Goss of Australia was second and Hushovd third.
Leading the pack
Overall, Hushovd retained a one-second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia, while Frank Schleck of Luxembourg was third, four seconds back. Three-time champion Alberto Contador, who lost time in a Stage 1 crash, sat 39th overall, 1:42 behind.
Three-time champion Contador, who changed bikes twice with some 30 kilometres left, attacked the bunch in a short but demanding climb in the closing stages. But with his legs a bit stiff after a day in the rain, the Spaniard was reeled in.
"Lots of people say that I'm a talented guy, so it's nice to show it by winning a stage"
Stage six winner Boasson Hagen
A string of breakaway riders sought to get a leg up but the pack eventually reeled them all in - the last ones getting caught within just the last two kilometers.
Despite the rain, the stage was marked by fewer crashes than a day earlier, when many riders including Contador and Britain's Bradley Wiggins went down.
All the favourites made it to the line in the same time as the day's winner except American RadioShack rider Levi Leipheimer, who crashed with five kilometres to go as he slipped on a white line on the road side.
It was another bad day for the U.S. RadioShack team.
RadioShack lost young star Janez Brajkovic of Slovenia from the race in a nasty spill that left him unconscious, bloodied on his head, and suffering from a concussion and broken collarbone.
Friday's stage is a 218 kilometer ride over mainly flat terrain from Le Mans to Chateauroux.