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Hunter hauls himself up

South Africa’s Robbie Hunter did well to merely survive the carnage of the cobbles in Tuesday’s third stage of the Tour de France.

After having dropped to 143rd after Monday’s stage, marred by numerous crashes on the unforgiving cobble sections, the Garmin-Transitions rider found himself up to 108th and 8min 57sec down on general classification leader Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland.

The Team Saxo Bank rider ended sixth in Tuesday’s stage, given the same time as winner Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team) and now boasts at 23sec lead over Britain’s Geraint Thomas of the Sky Professional Cycling Team.

As for Hunter, he was 41st in the 213-kilometre stage from Wanze-Arenberg to Port du Hainut, crossing the finish line 2:25sec in arrears of Hushovd (4hr 49min 38sec).

He narrowly avoided going down in the rough and tumble. “It was a good all day till Frank Schleck and Tony Martin decided to deck it in front of me… I stayed up but had to untangle my bike,” he said on his Twitter feed. “Was a spectacular stage… really fast… sorry for the guys like Frank who ended their tour today.

“Gotta say team rode well today… shows even though after yesterday we got a lotta fight in us yet…lots more to come!!”

Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was just ahead of Hunter in 37th spot for the stage (+2:08,) having to play catch-up after puncturing, while defending champion Alberto Contador was 13th (1:13).

Team Radioshack’s Armstrong is now 18th in the GC (2:30 down) and Contador ninth (1:40).

Biggest casualty of the day was Frank Schleck of Team Saxo Bank who was one of numerous casualties on the cobbles. The Luxembourg rider suffered a broken collarbone and is out of the tour. Hunter’s teammate, Christian Vande Velde didn’t start the state, having been a casualty in Monday’s racing.

Good news for Garmin-Transitions though is that they are now second in the team standings, just 11sec behind Team Saxo Bank.

And good news for the 189 remaining riders on Wednesday is that the fourth stage of 153.5km between Cambrai and Reims is relatively short and also relatively flat, falling into the hands of the sprinters again. Hopefully Hunter will be one of them.

Mark Etheridge