Hunter Wins Stage 11 of Tour
Robert Hunter (Barloworld) is the first South African to win a stage of the Tour de France. Hunter took a crash-marred bunch sprint to snare the pancake-flat, 182.5-km run from Marseille to Montpellier in 3:47:50. Fabian Cancellara (CSC) finished second, and Murilo Fischer (Liquigas) took third. Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) remains the yellow jersey.
From the start, the racing was aggressive. A series of attacks occurred, and one group of nine escaped and forged a 1:40 lead on the bunch, but the peloton, led by Milram, Predictor, Euskaltel, and Rabobank, rode down the fugitives. At 81 km, the field was together.
Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) and Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) attacked, and Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom) and Dmitri Fofonov (Credit Agricole) joined them. Eventually, David Millar (Saunier Duval) bridged up to the group. The bunch led the break by 4:50 at 96 km and by 7:30 at 110 km.
Behind, Astana began to hammer. Astana's pressure and the wind caused the peloton to split. Christophe Moreau (Ag2r), who began the day in sixth overall at 3:18, was caught in the back of the bunch. When Discovery Channel and Barloworld joined Astana at the front, the French champion began to lose ground. He would lose 3:20 to Rasmussen and see his hopes of taking the yellow jersey or finishing on the podium disappear.
At 156 km, Astana stopped attacking, but the bunch was within 2:25 of the break. The furious pace continued, and sprinters Erik Zabel (Milram) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) had been caught off guard by Astana's move and were in no position to contest the sprint. With 38 km left, the break was reeled in.
Quick Step and Saunier Duval took over at the front. With four km remaining, Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) attacked. He was reeled in, and Quick Step took sole command. Just inside the one-km banner, a crash blocked Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Julian Dean (Credit Agricole), and Fred Rodriguez (Predictor). With 350 m left, Hunter made his move.
In the overall, Rasmussen leads Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) by 2:35 and Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval) by 2:39. Stage 12 will not change this state of affairs, but with four rated climbs, including a Category 2, the day could belong to an escapee. Which one? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!