Kit­tel keeps spot­light, Froome keeps yel­low jer­sey

The Hamilton Spectator - - RACING 2017 -

Ger­man rider Mar­cel Kit­tel claimed the 11th stage of the Tour de France in a sprint fin­ish on Wed­nes­day, tak­ing his tally to five stage wins since the start of the cy­cling race.

Ahead of two hard days in the Pyre­nees moun­tains, Chris Froome fin­ished in the main pack to re­tain the race leader’s yel­low jer­sey.

A sprint spe­cial­ist, Kit­tel has now won 14 Tour de France stages in five ap­pear­ances at cy­cling’s show­case event, a record for a Ger­man rider.

The stage took the pelo­ton on a flat, 203.5-kilo­me­tre run from Eymet to Pau in south­west­ern France.

Kit­tel’s power in the bunch sprint could not be matched, and the Quick-Step Floors rider eas­ily beat Dy­lan Groe­newe­gen and Ed­vald Boas­son Ha­gen by half a bike length to ex­tend his lead in the points clas­si­fi­ca­tion af­ter stop­ping his ef­fort well be­fore the line.

Kit­tel has lost only one sprint since the start and has been in a class of his own since Mark Cavendish and Ar­naud De­mare de­parted the race.

Wed­nes­day’s stage was sup­posed to be what Tour rid­ers call a “tran­si­tion” day, an eas­ier ride that took them to the gate­way to the Pyre­nees moun­tains ahead of two hard days of gru­elling as­cents. But stress was pal­pa­ble in the pack to­wards the end, with sev­eral crashes hap­pen­ing at the back of the pelo­ton.

Third over­all, French­man Ro­main Bardet hit the deck and hurt his knee. The AG2R La Mon­di­ale rider was able to con­tinue af­ter chang­ing bike and did not lose time.

Two-time cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor also fell with some 20 kilo­me­tres left, while sec­ond-placed Fabio Aru lost one of his As­tana team­mates when Dario Cataldo was forced to re­tire with a bro­ken wrist fol­low­ing a crash in the feed zone mid­way through the stage.

Fifth-placed Jakob Fuglsang, an­other As­tana rider who was ex­pected to play a key role along­side Aru in the moun­tains, was also caught in the crash and hit the deck but he was able to fin­ish the stage. As­tana sports di­rec­tor Dmitry Fo­fonov said Fuglsang hurt a wrist, too.

Froome stayed safe in the pack and kept his over­all lead in­tact be­fore the bat­tle be­tween the main con­tenders re­sumes in the moun­tains.

The Bri­tish rider has an 18 sec­ond-lead over Aru, with Bardet 51 sec­onds off the pace.

Trail­ing 55 sec­onds be­hind Froome in the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion, Rigob­ero Uran re­mains in con­tention and Fuglsang stays within reach of the podium, 1:37 be­hind the yel­low jer­sey.

Thurs­day’s Stage 12 is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, with six cat­e­go­rized climbs — three of them either rated one or “hors cat­e­gorie” — and a short but steep up­hill fin­ish to an al­ti­tude of 1,580 me­tres.

Froome said he plans to keep his clos­est ri­vals on a tight leash in the moun­tains and ex­pects two-time cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor to try and wreak havoc dur­ing Fri­day’s shorter stage to Foix. Con­ta­dor has al­ready lost five min­utes and 15 sec­onds over­all but could de­rail Sky’s mas­ter­plan with re­lent­less at­tacks on his favourite ground. “He’s never shy to at­tack from far out. We’d be ready for that,” said Froome, adding that Sky is “not go­ing to al­low any­one to come back on GC.”

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