German cyclist Marcel Kittel has won his third stage victory on this year's Tour de France, pipping British rival Mark Cavendish just ahead of the finishing line. Britain's Chris Froome still maintains the overall lead.
Kittel claimed his stage win on the route between Fougeres and Tours on Thursday, doing so with a sprint finish.
The 25-year-old German stayed close to Omega Pharma-Quick Step's Cavendish until the very end, racing past the Briton within 50 meters (55 yards) of the finishing line and underlining his status as a top sprinter. It was Argos cyclist Kittel's second win in three days and his third of the tour.
"As we say in Germany, good things come in three," said Kittel. "It was close. I don't know what to say. It was a real sprint today, that's why I'm so happy."
Kittel said he hoped his recent successes might help boost the popularity of the sport in Germany, which is currently at a low ebb.
"The only thing we can do is keep on winning races. That is the best publicity you can do for your own sport," Kittel said. "We still have to do our job and that is what we will carry on doing."
British Team Sky cyclist Froome was able to avoid a late pile-up, retaining the overall leader's yellow jersey. Froome finished the stage among the leaders to protect his 3-minute, 25-second lead over Spain's Alejandro Valverde of Movistar.
Kittel's compatriot and fellow sprint specialist Andre Greipel was unable to put himself among the frontrunners, having been held up behind a crash.
Slovakia's Peter Sagan took third place in Thursday's outing, maintaining a comfortable lead in the sprinters' green jersey contest.
The race saw the peloton roll through the vineyards of the Loire valley along a 218-kilometer (135.5-mile) route.
rc/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters)