By Carlos de Torres
Poitiers, France, Sep 9 (efe-epa).- Australian Caleb Ewan came out on top in a close battle of fellow sprinters to win Stage 11 of the Tour de France here Wednesday, while Slovenian Primoz Roglic held on to the leader’s yellow jersey.
Ewan raised his arms in victory after a photo finish in which the Lotto-Soudal cyclist edged Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Ireland’s Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Belgium’s Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) by millimeters to complete the 167.5-kilometer (104.1-mile) distance from Chatelaillon-Plage to Poitiers in a time of four hours and one second.
But the end of the route was marred by controversy.
Sagan was relegated from second to last place (85th) in the sprinting group after the judges determined that the three-time road world champion had head-butted Van Aert down the final stretch, an action that may have prevented the Belgian Jumbo-Visma cyclist from securing his third stage win of this year’s Tour.
The dangerous move allowed Bennett to finish second and pick up critical points in his battle for the sprinters’ Points Classification crown, a title Sagan has won a record seven times.
Bennett now leads that competition with 243 points, 68 ahead of second-place Sagan, who has not gone this far in a Tour without a stage win since 2015.
Sagan also suffered another setback on Wednesday when he was beaten out by the Irishman at the intermediate sprint in Les Grands Ajoncs.
While the spotlight once again was on the sprinters in the race’s second straight flat stage, Wednesday marked the second consecutive day with no change whatsoever in the General Classification.
Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) continues to lead Colombian defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) by 21 seconds, with a pair of French riders – Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) – trailing by 28 seconds and 30 seconds, respectively.
Colombians Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Pro Cycling), Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates), the United Kingdom’s Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Spain’s Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) round out the top 10.
The day’s racing started in unusual fashion with French cyclist Matthieu Ladagnous (Groupama-FDJ) escaping by his lonesome as soon as the competitors left Chatelaillon-Plage, a city known for its international kite festival that was serving as a Tour stage site for the first time.
The 35-year-old veteran kept that lead until after the 120-km mark to record the longest solo breakaway so far in this year’s Tour and earn himself a podium place as the day’s most combative rider.
Down the final stretch, Van Aert launched an attack that appeared decisive until his quest for a third win was sabotaged by Sagan.
Ewan, who had finished second behind Bennett on Tuesday, came out on top this time to record his fifth career stage victory in a Tour de France.
The day was marred by a crash at Lavausseau at the 29 km mark in which Ion Izagirre (Astana) was injured and forced to abandon the race.
“It’s been a very hectic sprint. I went too close to the front with 2 km to go. I found myself more forward than I wanted to be so I dropped back. It was quite crazy,” Ewan was quoted as saying afterward on the Tour de France’s official website.
Roglic, for his part, credited his Jumbo-Visma teammates for navigating all of the potential pitfalls of a Tour de France stage.
“Everyone in this team does his part. This is why we have the yellow jersey. If you start to think about what can go wrong, a lot of things can happen. So we don’t,” the Slovenian said.
Next up on Thursday will be the Tour’s longest stage – a 218-km route from Chauvigny to Sarran over hilly terrain. EFE-EPA