Belgium's Tom Boonen won stage six of the Tour de France after Bradley Wiggins marked the 40th anniversary of the death of the great Tom Simpson with a lengthy solo break.

Simpson, the first British cyclist to wear the yellow jersey and the first British winner of the World Championships, died from heat exhaustion 40 years ago to the day while riding in the 1967 Tour.

Wiggins attacked two kilometres from the start in Semur-en-Auxois and was allowed to build his lead to 17 minutes 30 seconds before he was reeled in by the peloton.

He was caught just seven kilometres from the end of the 199.5km stage to Bourg-en-Bresse.

It was a long and ultimately unrewarded day for Wiggins in sweltering conditions which were an echo of the day Simpson collapsed on the slopes of Mont Ventoux having taken amphetamines and brandy to see him through an Alpine stage.

Today's stage ended in a sprint finish which Boonen won, coming through on the outside to edge ahead of Oscar Freire.

Freire was runner-up for the second time in two days, with Erik Zabel third, while Fabian Cancellara and Sylvain Chavanel held onto the yellow and polka-dot jerseys respectively.

Quick Step rider Boonen also reclaimed the green jersey from Zabel and admitted that he thought he was out of the race when his bike broke earlier in the race.

He told British Eurosport: ‘I made it on a broken bike today.

‘Somebody crashed into my bike and I was almost crying because I thought my bike was broken.

‘I'm a bit more relaxed this year and it was always possible that I could win.

‘But you have to find your luck, it doesn't come to you.’

Before the race, Tour favourite Alexander Vinokourov confirmed his participation despite having stitches in his knee and elbow after a crash in the fourth stage but no-one could catch Wiggins' early break, although Andriy Givko had a failed attempt.

Wiggins' advantage allowed him to win maximum points in all three intermediate sprints and on both hills, while Boonen twice came second on the sprints and Chavanel and Juan Manuel Garate picked up three points each on the summits.

The Londoner showed tremendous resilience as several times he saw his lead cut to around two minutes, but each time he broke away again and still led by five minutes with 50km to go.

At one point a spoke broke in Wiggins' rear wheel, but the Olympic pursuit gold medallist barely broke sweat as he tossed the wheel aside for a new one and was straight back on his bike.

Eventually though the heat and the pressure of being alone out in front was too much, and Wiggins was congratulated by team-mates and competitors alike as he was swallowed up less than 10km from the finish line.

With under 2km to go, Rabobank launched the sprint, Juan Antonio Flecha providing cover for team-mate Freire, but Boonen's power was too great as he moved round the right-hand side and accelerated over the line.

Standings from  the 6th stage of the Tour de France, a 199.5km ride from  Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse on Friday:

     1. Tom Boonen (BEL/QST)                            5h20min  59sec
     (average: 37,292 km/h)
     2. Oscar Freire (ESP/RAB)                            at     0:00
     3. Erik Zabel (GER/MIL)                                        0:00
     4. Sebastien Chavanel (FRA/FDJ)                         0:00
     5. Thor Hushovd (NOR/C.A)                                  0:00
     6. Daniele Bennati (ITA/LAM)                                0:00
     7. Robert Forster (GER/GRL)                                 0:00
     8. Robert Hunter (RSA/BAR)                                  0:00
     9. Romain Feillu (FRA/AGT)                                    0:00
    10. Murilo Fischer (BRA/LIQ)                                  0:00

Overall standings  after the 6th stage of the Tour de France, a 199.5km ride from  Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse on Friday:

     1. Fabian Cancellara (SUI/CSC)               29h49min 55sec
     2. Andreas Kloden (GER/AST)                   at      0:33
     3. Filippo Pozzato (ITA/LIQ)                               0:35
     4. David Millar (GBR/SDU)                                   0:41
     5. Oscar Freire (ESP/RAB)                                   0:43
     6. George Hincapie (USA/DIS)                            0:43
     7. Vladimir Gusev (RUS/DIS)                               0:45
     8. Vladimir Karpets (RUS/CEP)                            0:46
     9. Erik Zabel (GER/MIL)                                       0:48
    10. Mikel Astarloza (ESP/EUS)                              0:49