Crash-filled day

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - Mar­cel Kit­tel

Al­berto Con­ta­dor (above, rear) checks out his bi­cy­cle af­ter crash­ing with his team­mate Michael Gogl dur­ing stage 11 of the Tour de France on Wed­nes­day. The stage proved to be a bru­tal ex­pe­ri­ence for some of the top rid­ers af­ter a se­ries of crashes left them nurs­ing cuts and bruises. Mar­cel Kit­tel steered clear of trou­ble and claimed the stage in a sprint fin­ish, tak­ing his tally to five stage vic­to­ries since the race started.

PAU, France — Ahead of two gru­el­ing days filled with some truly pun­ish­ing as­cents, the main con­tenders on the Tour de France were all hop­ing that Wed­nes­day would be a nice, re­laxed day on the bike. It didn’t hap­pen. In­stead of what rid­ers call a “tran­si­tion” day, with a com­fort­able run to the gate­way to the Pyre­nees moun­tains, Stage 11 proved to be a bru­tal ex­pe­ri­ence for some of the top rid­ers af­ter a se­ries of crashes left them nurs­ing cuts and bruises.

When cross­winds started mak­ing the bunch ner­vous to­ward the end of the 126-mile stage from Eymet to Pau, the stress be­came pal­pa­ble and led to sev­eral crashes at the back of the pelo­ton.

Ger­man sprinter Mar­cel Kit­tel steered clear of trou­ble and claimed the stage in a sprint fin­ish, tak­ing his tally to five stage vic­to­ries since the race started.

But French­man Ro­main Bardet, who is third over­all be­hind race leader Chris Froome, was not so for­tu­nate. He hit the deck and slightly hurt his knee, but the AG2R La Mon­di­ale rider was able to con­tinue af­ter chang­ing bikes and did not lose any time.

“It was a ner­vous day and I was caught in a crash,” said Bardet, who is try­ing to be­come the first French­man to win the Tour since Bernard Hin­ault last man­aged the feat in 1985.

“It’s never en­joy­able to fall. I just have to soak it up and to wait for bet­ter days.”

Two-time cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor went down twice, while sec­ond-place Fabio Aru lost one of his As­tana team­mates when Dario Cataldo was forced to re­tire with a bro­ken wrist af­ter a crash in the feed zone mid­way through the stage.

Fifth-place Jakob Fuglsang, an­other As­tana rider ex­pected to play a key role along­side Aru in the moun­tains, was caught in the same crash.

Though he was able to reach the fin­ish, As­tana later said in a state­ment that Fuglsang had suf­fered two mi­nor frac­tures in his left wrist and left el­bow. How­ever, they will not pre­vent him from start­ing to­day’s stage.

“It was a ner­vous day,” Froome said of the crashes. “Ev­ery­thing was good on our side.”

Froome kept his over­all lead in­tact ahead of the big bat­tle in the Pyre­nees. He has an 18-sec­ond lead over Aru, with Bardet 51 sec­onds off the pace. Trail­ing 55 sec­onds be­hind Froome in the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion, Rigob­erto Uran re­mains in con­tention and Fuglsang is still within reach of the podium, 1:37 be­hind the yel­low jer­sey.

To­day’s stage will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult, with six cat­e­go­rized climbs — three of them ei­ther rated Cat­e­gory 1 or “hors cat­e­gorie” — be­yond cat­e­go­riz­ing. It fea­tures a short, but steep up­hill fin­ish at an al­ti­tude of 5,200 feet.

Froome de­scribed the fin­ish as “quite sav­age.”

“If some­one blows in those few hun­dred me­ters, there could be some re­ally sig­nif­i­cant time gaps,” the Team Sky leader said. “One of the re­ally key stages of this year’s race.”

Froome also ex­pects Con­ta­dor to try and wreak havoc dur­ing Fri­day’s shorter stage to Foix. Con­ta­dor has al­ready lost 5:15 over­all, but could still ruin the Team Sky master­plan with some re­lent­less at­tacks on his fa­vorite ground.

Kit­tel’s power in the bunch sprint could not be matched Wed­nes­day and the Quick­Step Floors rider eas­ily beat Dy­lan Groe­newe­gen and Ed­vald Boas­son Ha­gen by half a bike’s length, eas­ing up well be­fore the line as he ex­tended his lead in the points clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

Kit­tel has lost only one sprint since the Tour started and has been in a class of his own since sprint ri­vals Mark Cavendish and Ar­naud De­mare left the race.

“It was a nervy day,” Kit­tel said. “It could have been worse with all the wind.”

Three rid­ers — Fred­er­ick Back­aert, Marco Mar­cato and Ma­ciej Bod­nar — es­caped from the pack right from the start at the pic­turesque town of Eymet in the Dor­dogne, a tourist hotspot with its cas­tles, caves and other sights.

They built a lead of about four min­utes over a laid-back pelo­ton, but the break­away had few chances of suc­ceed­ing on the flat, straight roads. The pelo­ton trailed by 30 sec­onds with just over 18½ miles left when Bod­nar at­tacked to go on his own.

The Pol­ish rider went all out, us­ing his time trial skills to re­sist the pelo­ton’s pur­suit as long as pos­si­ble. But de­spite look­ing for the best pos­si­ble aero­dy­nam­ics po­si­tion in the down­hill sec­tion lead­ing to Pau, he was swal­lowed up with just 273 yards left.

“I thought, ‘Oof. That was close,’ ” Kit­tel said of Bod­nar’s ef­fort. “This time, the sprint­ers won.”

AP/JEFF PACHOUD

AP/CHRISTOPHE ENA

of Ger­many holds up five fin­gers Wed­nes­day to cel­e­brate his fifth stage vic­tory at the Tour de France. Bri­tain’s Chris Froome re­tained the over­all race lead.

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