Rasmussen Still in Yellow in France

MONTPELLIER, France -- Robert Hunter of South Africa won Thursday's 11th stage of the Tour de France, while Michael Rasmussen of Denmark retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.

Hunter sprinted at the end of the 113.4-mile route from Marseille to Montpellier in sunny yet windy conditions to record the first-ever stage victory by a South African.

"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 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.

Hunter's Barloworld team has won a second stage in its Tour debut after 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, who dropped to 14th place and 6:38 behind Rasmussen. The Frenchman entered the day in sixth place, 3:18 back.

Moreau crashed along with his AG2R Prevoyance teammate Simon Gerrans of Australia at the 19-mile mark, shredding his uniform over his left thigh. He got up and back into the pack.

"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 39.8 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 heads 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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