- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

LISIEUX, France — Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway led a sprint to win the rain-splattered sixth stage of the Tour de France, while his countryman Thor Hushovd retained the yellow jersey Thursday.

The pack battled slippery roads and brisk winds over the hilly, 141-mile ride across northwest France from Dinan to Lisieux in Normandy the longest stage in the race this year.

Hagen, a sprint specialist with Team Sky, broke out of the barreling pack near the finish line and held on, jutting his arms in the air as he crossed 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.

Overall, Hushovd retained a one-second lead over Cadel Evans of Australia, while Frank Schleck of Luxembourg was third, 4 seconds back. Three-time champion Alberto Contador, who lost time in a Stage 1 crash, was 34th overall, 1:42 behind.

Hushovd and his team appeared to be wearying of the hard work of protecting the yellow jersey, which involves riding in the front to keep the race leader out of potential trouble.

“The yellow jersey’s on my shoulders and I used up a lot of energy, so I’m a little bit tired,” Hushovd said. “That’s why I missed that little something today. I’m feeling good, but it’s been a hard and stressful week.”

Hushovd has twice taken home the Tour’s green jersey awarded to the best sprinter.

Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, who won the opening stage Saturday, said “everyone was a bit out of breath” and that Hagen “devoured the last 150 meters; he’s impossible to catch when he’s like that.”

Hushovd reveled in the Nordic country’s success.

“Not bad, after all - it’s a good day for Norway,” said the Garmin-Cervelo veteran, who retained the yellow jersey for a fifth consecutive day. As for Hagen, he said: “Clearly he’s got a big future.”