Kit­tel wins crash-marred stage 11

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Sa­muel Petrequin and John Le­ices­ter

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 203.5-kilo­me­ter (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 wins 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 sec­ond­place 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.

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 Jakob Fuglsang is still within reach of the podium, 1:37 be­hind the yel­low jer­sey.

Thurs­day’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 1,580 me­ters (5,200 feet).

Froome de­scribed the fin­ish as “quite sav­age.”

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