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One for South Africa

Jamey Keaten Associated Press

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.

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 today 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.

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