SAINT-ETIENNE, France Carlos Sastre of Spain retained the overall lead and Marcus Burghardt of Germany won the 18th stage of the Tour de France as the race left the Alps on Thursday.
Sastre leads CSC teammate Frank Schleck of Luxembourg by 1 minute, 24 seconds. Bernhard Kohl of Austria is third, 1:33 behind, and Cadel Evans of Australia is fourth, 1:34 back.
Burghardt and Carlos Barredo of Spain finished with more than a 6-minute lead on the main pack, including the top title contenders, after the 122-mile ride from Bourg-d'Oisans to Saint-Etienne.
The German raised his fists in the air and clapped as he crossed the finish line, while Barredo banged his handlebars in frustration. They finished in 4:30:21 through low mountains.
The title contenders were content to let the breakaway riders go. The three-week race ends Sunday in Paris.
Barredo came into the stage more than 2 hours behind Sastre, and Burghardt was more than three hours back. The two riders consistently attacked each other in the last six miles and sometimes chatted along the way.
The 103-mile stage Friday takes riders through the plains from Roanne to Montlucon. The final positions are expected to be solidified after the time trial Saturday from Cerilly to Saint-Amand-Montrond.
Evans, a strong time-trials rider, is considered the man to beat among the contenders.
Also Thursday, Italian rider Damiano Cunego crashed, but got back on his bike after treatment from the race doctor for a cut on his chin.