By Julien Pretot
MONTAUBAN, France (Reuters) - Mark Cavendish further cemented his status as the Tour de France's greatest sprinter when the Briton claimed his 29th career win in the sixth stage on Thursday.
The 31-year-old Dimension Data team rider surged ahead in the final straight and held off the charge of German Marcel Kittel (Etixx-Quick Step), who finished second.
Another Briton, Dan McLay (Fortuneo Vital Concept) took third place.
Manx Missile Cavendish has now won half of the stages in this year's race, having managed only one last year.
Belgian Greg van Avermaet (BMC) had a quiet day in the peloton to retain the overall leader's yellow jersey as did defending champion and favorite Chris Froome (Team Sky).
The victory, Cavendish's 142nd in his professional career, put the Manxman alone in second place in the list of all-time Tour stage winners ahead of Bernard Hinault (28).
He is five shy of the great Eddy Merckx's record.
Cavendish, who won his first Tour stage in 2008, could still add to his total in Montpellier, Villars les Dombes, Bern and the run-in to Paris before switching to the Olympic velodrome.
It was a day for the sprinters on a mostly flat 190.5-km stage from Arpajon sur Cere, and Cavendish did not disappoint, perfectly timing his surge to pip Kittel while German champion Andre Greipel was never in contention in the finale.
Czech Jan Barta (Bora-Argon 18) and Japan's Yukiya Arashiro (Lampre) opened a maximum lead of five minutes but their breakaway was never likely to succeed.
On the first hot day of the Tour in the Massif Central, temperatures reached 36 degrees Celsius as the riders headed for the first Pyrenean stage, a 162.5-km trek to the Lac de Payolle featuring the category-one climb to the Col d'Aspin.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Clare Lovell and Martyn herman)