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Boonen wins Stage 6 -- but it's slow going

Tom Boonen (right) sprinted past teammate Oscar Freire (bottom) and Erik Zabel to win his fifth career stage. Tom Boonen (right) sprinted past teammate Oscar Freire (bottom) and Erik Zabel to win his fifth career stage. (JACKY NAEGELEN/REUTERS)

BOURG-EN-BRESSE, France -- Slow through the flats and fast in the mountains -- that's just what some riders are predicting as the Tour de France enters the Alps.

Belgian Tom Boonen won yesterday's sixth stage, ending a crash-prone and unusually slow first week in which sprinters ruled and two potential title contenders were injured.

Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, the only man to wear the leader's yellow jersey this year, held on to the overall lead by finishing in the pack.

Burning thighs and heavy breathing await as riders embark on three days in the Alps, starting with today's 122.7-mile course from Bourg-en-Bresse to Le Grand-Bornand, featuring the Category 1 climb at La Colombiere pass.

"You watch, it's going to be . . . fast this weekend," said David Millar of Britain. "Whenever you get into the hilly stages, everybody will want to go out on the break. No one has wanted to go this week."

High headwinds across northern French farmland were the big deterrent. The leader has averaged 24.8 miles per hour through six stages, down from 26.6 m.p.h. a year ago. In 2005, with Lance Armstrong en route to a record seventh Tour victory, the pace was 29.8 m.p.h.

For now, favorites have been content to sit back and let sprinters jostle for stage wins early in the three-week race.

Former world champion Boonen thundered to his fifth career Tour stage victory in a sprint at the end of yesterday's 123.9-mile trek from the Burgundy town of Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse.

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