Marcel Kittel had little trouble winning the sixth stage of the Tour de France in a mass sprint finish today, with Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish both no longer in the race.

Chris Froome held on to the leader's yellow jersey after a sultry, but uneventful day in the peloton.

It was Kittel's second victory in this year's race and 11th overall in his Tour career.

As the other contenders bunched together on the right side of the road, Kittel burst forward around them on the left and easily created a comfortable gap, allowing him to celebrate, as he crossed the line.

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"I was really confident in my team," Kittel said. "I was also really confident in myself today. There was just a moment when I broke free and started to go ahead."

Stage four winner Arnaud Demare finished second and Andre Greipel was third.

Sagan, the world champion, was disqualified for elbowing Cavendish to the ground two days ago. The fall resulted in Cavendish, who has 30 Tour wins, abandoning the race with a broken shoulder.

Kittel said the absence of Cavendish and Sagan has altered the racing in that their teams are no longer battling out the sprint finishes.

He was repeatedly asked after his win about their absence.

"It's a bit sad that it's all about this decision," he said. "The level that we have here for the sprints is still very, very high."

Kittel required slightly more than five hours to ride the mostly flat 216-kilometre (134-mile) leg from Vesoul to Troyes, and then bent down over his handlebars, close to tears, as he took in the victory.

The route in northeastern France passed through Colombey-les-Deux-Eglises, the hometown of France's wartime hero and former president, General Charles de Gaulle, and ended in champagne country.

A three-man breakaway rode out front for most of the stage. Perrig Quemeneur, Frederik Backaert and Vegard Stake Laengen were caught by the peloton with three kilometres to go.

Otherwise, the only incident of note came when a beach umbrella floated across the pack with about 90 kilometres left, prompting Froome and his Sky teammates to veer out of the way.

"There was a bit of wind, and the parasol took off and ended up in the road," he said. "That's the Tour."

Froome remained 12 seconds ahead of Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas and 14 seconds ahead of Fabio Aru of Italy.

Richie Porte in fifth place overall and other riders eyeing victory in Paris on July 23 were simply pleased to get the long, hot stage over without incident.

"It was such a long day," Porte said. Probably, you know, could have had the same result with half the distance, but it's a nice one to get done."

On such days, Porte said, "there's nothing to gain, but there's so much to lose ... it was quite a frantic finish."

Best of the four Kiwis was Dion Smith in 11th, a performance that saw him improve to 101st overall and 13th in young rider standings. Tour of California winner George Bennett maintain his presence on the general classification, finishing in the bunch and retaining 25th overall.

Patrick Bevin slipped a few spots to 85th overall, while most of Jack Bauer's efforts so far have been in support of Quick-Step Floors team-mate Kittel. The four-tour veteran led his train to the front of the peleton and helped close down the breakaway, before peeling off to finish two minutes back at the finish.

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

Friday is "another long day and I think the aim of that is just to sap the energy a bit," Porte said. "They sure are long days."

More mountainous stages, where Froome and Porte should be among the protagonists, are scheduled for Sunday and Monday.

- AP