South African wins Tour’s 11th stage |

South African wins Tour’s 11th stage

Jamey Keaten
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Claude Paris/APThe pack rides along the Old Port in Marseille, southern France, during the 11th stage of the Tour de France. In background is the basilica of Notre Dame de La Garde.

MONTPELLIER, France ” After six years in the Tour de France, Robert Hunter finally won one for South Africa.

Hunter, the first rider from his country in cycling’s premier event, became the first South African to win a stage on Thursday, while Michael Rasmussen of Denmark retained the yellow jersey.

“I’m really happy. I have no words to describe what I’m feeling right now,” Hunter said. “I’ve done the Tour de France six times, and I’m the first South African ever to ride in it.

“I’m hoping it will boost the sport in South Africa to get more young riders up to the professional level in Europe.”

Hunter won the 113.4-mile 11th stage from Marseille to Montpellier in 3 hours, 47 minutes, 50 seconds, outpacing second-place Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland and Murilo Fischer of Brazil in third. The main pack of riders finished in the same time.

It was the second stage win for Hunter’s Barloworld team. Juan Mauricio Soler of Colombia took the ninth stage on Tuesday.

Rasmussen retained his lead over his main rivals for the yellow jersey. He is 2:35 ahead of second-place Alejandro Valverde and 2:39 in front of Iban Mayo in third.

The day’s biggest loser in the overall race was Christophe Moreau of France, who dropped to 14th place ” 6:38 behind Rasmussen. He entered the day in sixth place, 3:18 back.

Moreau and AG2R Prevoyance teammate Simon Gerrans of Australia crashed at the 19-mile mark, shredding Moreau’s uniform over his left thigh.

“There’s no panic. (He) just got scraped up on the shoulder and thigh,” AG2R sporting director Vincent Lavenu told France-2 television midway through the stage. “It’s not serious for the rest of the Tour.”

But with about 40 miles left, Alexandre Vinokourov’s Astana team accelerated, splitting the main pack in two ” leaving Moreau and the small group trailing far behind.

The Tour will head into the medium-sized mountains Friday for the 12th stage, taking riders on a 110.9-mile jaunt from Montpellier to Castres, a stage likely to favor breakaway riders.

The next big test is likely to come on Saturday with the first of two individual time trials in and around the town of Albi. Three days in the Pyrenees mountains loom at the start of the third week before the July 29 finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

The Tour was dealt a blow on Wednesday after Germany’s cycling federation said Patrik Sinkewitz, who dropped out of the race after a crash last weekend, had tested positive for high levels of testosterone in a surprise doping test conducted during a training run last month.

“There’s nothing right in what happened yesterday, it’s something that the sport needs to get over,” Hunter said. “Unfortunately, you are going to have stupid people in the world that are going to try to take advantage of the situation.

“I’m obviously sorry for people who are following the sport and continue to see things like that. But at the end of the day, cycling is the most controlled sport in the world.”

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