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2011 Tour De France, Stage Six Preview: Peloton Faces Longest Stretch Of Tour

Editor's Note: Check out the results from Stage Six.

The 2011 Tour De France enters the longest stage of the race as the peloton will make its way over 226 1/2 kilometers of rolling hills. The stage starts in Dinan and ends in Lisieux as the final stage in the northwest portion of France. After Stage 6, the cyclists will head down to Le Mans where the Tour takes them through the heart of France.

Thursday's stage will provide a tough challenge for many of the cyclists because of the combination of distance and altitude. It's not quite like riding through the Alps so the climbers won't really benefit. On the other hand it's not a completely flat stage like stage three, which means pure sprinters will struggle to stay up front, particularly over the final 1 1/2 kilometers where there's a decent little climb.

That leaves the power sprinters, which could mean Philippe Gilbert or Thomas Voeckler to victory. While it does include some modest climbing, I'd imagine the overall standings won't change a whole lot by the end of Thursday, which bodes well for Levi Leipheimer. He lost some ground on stage four but remains only 18 seconds back of the pack. He'll need to make his move at some point, but for now he'll just be looking to bide his time hanging with the peloton for now.

Stage six kicks off a half hour earlier than normal with a 4:30am pacific start on VERSUS.

We'll be here for the entire race providing news updates and stage previews and recaps, particularly as they relate to Bay Area cyclist Levi Leipheimer. For more in-depth discussion on the 2011 Tour De France, head over to Podium Cafe. For more general Tour coverage, head over to the SB Nation story stream.