Tours, France • Germany's Marcel Kittel overtook Mark Cavendish at the line Thursday to win the 12th stage of the Tour de France, and Chris Froome avoided a late crash in the main pack to preserve his big lead.
Cavendish moved in front but Kittel gained ground and just beat him to the line to earn his second stage win in three days and third of this race.
"As we say in Germany, good things come in three," Kittel said. "It was close. I don't know what to say. It was a real sprint today, that's why I'm so happy."
German riders have won five stages so far, with Tony Martin capturing Wednesday's time trial and Andre Greipel also winning a sprint stage.
"It's a big achievement for me, my team, and for German sprinters as well," Kittel said.
Froome leads Alejandro Valverde by 3 minutes, 25 seconds and is 3:54 ahead of two-time former champion Alberto Contador. Froome is on track to become the second British rider to win the race Bradley Wiggins won it last year, with Froome runner-up.
"At the moment I'm trying to save as much energy as possible for Mont Ventoux at the end of the week and then the Alps next week," said Froome, who dominated the first big mountain stage of the race in the Pyrenees last Saturday.
The field rolled through vineyards and alongside the Chinon forest on a 136-mile route from Fougeres to Tours in the Loire valley, a picturesque region dotted with imposing French chateaus the spiral-towered Chateau d'Usse, which dates from the 11th century, and the 16th century Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau, which rests on the water.
About 20 riders were caught in a crash near the end, with some stuck under the bikes of others as wheels and frames jutted out at all angles.
Froome's Sky teammate, Edvald Boasson Hagen, broke his right shoulder blade and dropped out of the tour.
"It's a real shame for Edvald and a setback for the team," Sky manager Dave Brailsford said. "But ultimately we're still confident that, with the riders we've got left, we can pull together and see the race through."
Froome was close enough to "hear the crash" but just far ahead enough to avoid it.
"It's always like that at the end before a sprint," Froome said. "It's scary for everyone."
1. C. Froome
2. A. Valverde -3:25
3. B. Mollema -3:37
4. A. Contador -3:54
5. R. Kreuziger -3:57
Tour de France
P Friday, 6 a.m.
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