German rider Marcel Kittel claimed the 11th stage of the Tour de France in a sprint finish, taking his tally to five stage wins since the start of this year's race.

The Quick-Step Floors rider, who now has 14 stages to his name overall, left it late to launch his sprint, but easily beat Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen and Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Australia's Michael Matthews finished the stage in fourth and is second overall in the race for the green jersey. Matthews appeared slightly cluttered for room in the final sprint to the line.

Rookie Dion Smith was again the first Kiwi home in 14th, but countrymen George Bennett, Patrick Bevin and Jack Bauer all finished in the peleton, recording the same time as Kittel.

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Ahead of two hard days in the Pyrenees mountains, England's Chris Froome finished in the main pack to retain the race leader's yellow jersey by 18 seconds over Italian Fabio Aru.

Bennett retained his grip on 10th in the general classification, three minutes 53 seconds behind Froome, with Bevin the next best Kiwi in 84th.

Some of the main contenders for the yellow jersey endured a tough day on the road. Three of the main contenders crashed, as last year's runner-up Romain Bardet (third overall), Jakob Fuglsang (fifth) and twice winner Alberto Contador (12th) hit the deck in separate incidents.

Fuglsang was involved in a crash at the feed zone and went to the medical car to have his wrist checked, while his Astana team-mate Dario Cataldo was forced to abandon, because of a wrist injury, after the Italian also fell.

"He was a key rider," said Astana sports director Dmitry Fofonov. "He would have had an important role in the mountains.

"We have to decide if he undergoes operation in France or in Italy. As for Fuglsang, he already broke the wrist that's injured today - it hurts, he said."

Frenchman Bardet avoided serious injury.

"I escaped unhurt, but now I'm happy that the flat stages are over," said Bardet, who is expected to attack in tonight's 12th stage - a 214.5km trek, featuring three major climbs and a summit finish in Peyragudes.

Contador, who slipped down the general classification after a bad day in the Jura mountains on Sunday, fell off his bike 25km from the finish, but managed to make it back to the peloton with the help of Trek-Segafredo team-mate Jarlinson Pantano.

At that point, the main pack was travelling at full speed, as the sprinters' teams rode hard at the front to catch the last fugitive of the day, Maciej Bodnar of Poland.

After 200km in the breakaway, the exhausted Bora-Hansgrohe rider was reined in 250 metres from the line, before Kittel stole the show yet again.