By Julien Pretot
PAU, France (Reuters) – German Marcel Kittel was once again a cut above the rest as he claimed his fifth victory in this year’s Tour de France, winning a crash-ridden 11th stage in emphatic style on Wednesday.
The Quick-Step Floors rider, who now has 14 stages to his name, left it late to launch his sprint but easily beat Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data).
Boasson Hagen raised his arms as if he had won but was comprehensively beaten by Kittel and Groenewegen after 203.5km from Eymet.
Britain’s Chris Froome retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey on a relaxed day for Team Sky’s defending champion, but some of his rivals did not have a quiet day.
Three of the main contenders crashed as last year’s runner-up Romain Bardet, third overall, Jakob Fuglsang (fifth) and twice winner Alberto Contador (12th) hit the deck in separate incidents.
Fuglsang was involved in a crash at the feed zone and sustained small fractures in his wrist and elbow but he will start on Thursday, his Astana team said. Astana’s Dario Cataldo was forced to abandon the race because of a wrist injury after the Italian also fell.
Frenchman Bardet, meanwhile, avoided serious injury.
“I escaped unhurt but now I’m happy that the flat stages are over,” said Bardet, who is expected to attack in Thursday’s 12th stage, a 214.5-km trek featuring three major climbs and a summit finish in Peyragudes.
Contador, who slipped down the general classification after a bad day in the Jura mountains on Sunday, fell off his bike 25km from the finish but managed to make it back to the peloton with the help of his Trek-Segafredo team mate Jarlinson Pantano.
He suffered bruises to his hip and elbow. Contador’s fall was the latest in a series of crashes on the Tour for the Spaniard, who was forced to abandon the race in 2014 and 2016.
“I never believed in bad luck, but this Tour is putting me to the limit, especially psychologically,” he said.
“But those who think I will give up don’t know me.”
At that point, the main pack was traveling at full speed as the sprinters’ teams rode hard at the front to catch the last fugitive of the day, Maciej Bodnar of Poland.
The exhausted Bora-Hansgrohe rider was reined in 250 meters from the line before Kittel stole the show yet again.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Ed Osmond)