MONTPELLIER, France — Peter Sagan won the windy 11th stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday after getting in a late four-man breakaway that also included overall leader Chris Froome.
With 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) remaining in the 162.5-kilometer (101-mile) leg from the medieval city of Carcassonne to Montpellier near the Mediterranean coast, Froome and his Sky teammate Geraint Thomas joined the Tinkoff duo of Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar in the lead.
Sagan easily won the sprint finish ahead of Froome, while Bodnar crossed third.
Gaining a six-second bonus for his second-place finish, Froome gained 12 seconds on all of his direct rivals who finished in the main peloton six seconds behind.
Aiming for his third Tour title in four years, the bigger gaps also made Froome more comfortable in the yellow jersey ahead of Thursday's mountain-top finish at Mont Ventoux on Bastille Day.
Froome moved 28 seconds ahead of fellow British rider Adam Yates.
Dan Martin of Ireland is third overall, 31 seconds behind, and two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana of Colombia is fourth, 35 seconds back.
On paper, the mostly flat stage had appeared to set up well for sprinters. But with crosswinds of 40 kph (25 mph) sweeping across the road, it developed into a more tactical finish.
It was Sagan's second victory in this Tour and his sixth career win in cycling's biggest race.
An early breakaway by French champion Arthur Vichot and Leigh Howard of Australia established a lead of nearly four minutes — before being caught midway through the stage.
At times, the wind split the peloton into several small groups, known as echelons, that swept across the road in fan-like formations.
Even midway through the stage, Froome rode hard at the front of the peloton, perhaps sensing that some of his rivals were having trouble keeping up.
There were several crashes early in the stage, starting with George Bennett of New Zealand and Thibaut Pinot, who has the king of the mountains jersey. After landing in a ditch on the side of the road, both riders were able to get back on their bikes.
At least a dozen other riders also hit the pavement without serious consequence — with wind the likely cause.
Pinot was among the riders dropped by the peloton when the wind was at its fiercest, although he caught up again a bit later.
The next two days are two of the toughest on the Tour.
Stage 12 Thursday is a 184-kilometer (114-mile) leg from Montpellier to Mont Ventoux in the Provence region. Froome was the stage winner when the Tour last scaled Ventoux's barren, 1,909-meter (6,263-foot) peak in 2013.
The race's first time trial comes Friday with a hilly 37.5-kilometer (23.3 mile) leg from Bourg-Saint-Andeol to La Caverne du Pont-D'Arc.
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf