BORDEAUX, France — Belgian Rudy Dhaenens nosed out Mathieu Hermans of the Netherlands and Laurent Biondi of France in a final sprint Monday to take the 160-mile 11th stage of the Tour de France bicycle race.
Dhaenens, a 25-year-old sprinter on the Hitachi team, covered the longest stage in the race, from Poitiers to Bordeaux, in a time of 6 hours 12 minutes 40 seconds.
The pack, led by Alfonso Guttierrez of Spain, finished 30 seconds later.
Denmark's Joergen Pedersen came in 106th in the pack, but retained the overall lead for the fifth straight day. Frenchman Joel Pelier trailed Pedersen by 1:03. Irishman Stephen Roche was third, 1:05 back, and five-time winner Bernard Hinault stayed in fourth place, 1:10 behind.
Once again, the riders ran the race at a pace of about 25 m.p.h. and finished 45 minutes before expected.
About 15 miles from the finish, Dhaenens took part in a 13-man break. Aided by teammate and former world road race champion Claude Criquielion, he broke away from the escape group just as it approached Bordeaux.
Hermans and Biondi tailed him as he gained a 200-meter lead, but Dhaenens powered to a victory.
"If I win at Bordeaux, I owe it to Criquielion," Dhaenens said. "I suggested to him that we step up the pace, but he said it wasn't worth it because the escape wouldn't gain more than a minute. In the group, I put myself on guard against Hermans. Criquielion told me to escape. He was at the head of the escape group, and when I broke away, he let me do it."
"I know this finish line well, because last year I prepared the sprint," he added. "That's why I broke away two kilometers before the end."
Today, the riders face the first mountains of the race, the Pyrenees, as they tackle the 135-mile 12th stage from Bayonne to Pau.
While there have been relatively few dropouts so far, the race's unusually frenetic pace has begun to take its toll, and today's slopes should begin to eliminate cyclists.