PAU, France (AP) — Forward of two grueling days crammed with some really punishing ascents, the principle contenders on the Tour de France have been all hoping that Wednesday could be a pleasant, relaxed day on the bike.

It did not occur.

As a substitute of what riders name a “transition” day, with a cushty run to the gateway to the Pyrenees mountains, Stage 11 proved to be a brutal expertise for among the high riders after a collection of crashes left them nursing cuts and bruises.

When crosswinds began making the bunch nervous towards the top of the 203.5-kilometer (126-mile) stage from Eymet to Pau, the stress turned palpable and led to a number of crashes in the back of the peloton.

German sprinter Marcel Kittel steered away from bother and claimed the stage in a dash end, taking his tally to 5 stage wins because the race began.

However Frenchman Romain Bardet, who’s third general behind race chief Chris Froome, was not so lucky. He hit the deck and barely damage his knee, however the AG2R La Mondiale rider was in a position to proceed after altering bikes and didn’t lose any time.

“It was a nervous day and I used to be caught in a crash,” stated Bardet, who’s making an attempt to grow to be the primary Frenchman to win the Tour since Bernard Hinault final managed the feat in 1985.

“It is by no means fulfilling to fall. I simply need to soak it up and to attend for higher days.”

Two-time champion Alberto Contador went down twice, whereas second-place Fabio Aru misplaced considered one of his Astana teammates when Dario Cataldo was compelled to retire with a damaged wrist after a crash within the feed zone halfway by way of the stage.

Fifth-place Jakob Fuglsang, one other Astana rider anticipated to play a key function alongside Aru within the mountains, was caught in the identical crash.

Although he was in a position to attain the end, Astana later stated in a press release that Fuglsang had suffered two minor fractures in his left wrist and left elbow. Nevertheless, they won’t forestall him from beginning Thursday’s stage.

“It was a nervous day,” Froome stated of the crashes. “All the things was good on our facet.”

Froome stored his general lead intact forward of the large battle within the Pyrenees. He has an 18 second-lead over Aru, with Bardet 51 seconds off the tempo. Trailing 55 seconds behind Froome within the normal classification, Rigoberto Uran stays in rivalry and Fuglsang continues to be inside attain of the rostrum, 1:37 behind the yellow jersey.

Thursday’s stage can be extraordinarily tough, with six categorized climbs — three of them both rated Class 1 or “hors categorie” — past categorizing. It encompasses a brief, however steep uphill end at an altitude of 1,580 meters (5,200 toes).

Froome described the end as “fairly savage.”

“If somebody blows in these few hundred meters, there may very well be some actually important time gaps,” the Crew Sky chief stated. “One of many actually key phases of this yr’s race.”

Froome additionally expects Contador to attempt to wreak havoc throughout Friday’s shorter stage to Foix. Contador has already misplaced 5:15 general, however may nonetheless break the Crew Sky masterplan with some relentless assaults on his favourite floor.

“He is by no means shy to assault from far out. We would be prepared for that,” stated Froome, including that his crew is “not going to permit anybody to come back again on GC (Common Classification).”

A dash specialist, Kittel has now received 14 Tour de France phases in 5 appearances at biking’s showcase occasion, a report for a German rider.

Kittel’s energy within the bunch dash couldn’t be matched on Wednesday and the Fast-Step Flooring rider simply beat Dylan Groenewegen and Edvald Boasson Hagen by half a motorbike’s size, easing up properly earlier than the road as he prolonged his lead within the factors classification.

Kittel has misplaced just one dash because the Tour began and has been in a category of his personal since dash rivals Mark Cavendish and Arnaud Demare left the race.

“It was a nervy day,” Kittel stated. “It may have been worse with all of the wind.”

Three riders — Frederick Backaert, Marco Marcato and Maciej Bodnar escaped from the pack proper from the beginning on the picturesque city of Eymet within the Dordogne, a vacationer hotspot with its castles, caves and different sights.

They constructed a lead of about 4 minutes over a laid-back peloton, however the breakaway had few possibilities of succeeding on the flat, straight roads. The peloton trailed by 30 seconds with 30 kilometers left when Bodnar attacked to go on his personal.

The Polish rider went all out, utilizing his time trial expertise to withstand the peloton’s pursuit so long as potential. However regardless of on the lookout for the very best aerodynamics place within the downhill part resulting in Pau, he was swallowed up with simply 250 meters left.

“I believed, ‘Oof. That was shut,'” Kittel stated of Bodnar’s effort. “This time, the sprinters received.”

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