OYONNAX, France — Frenchman Tony Gallopin had a good day on the Tour de France, winning his first career stage on the showcase race with a sprint finish at the end of a long and hot day in the saddle, and Italian Vincenzo Nibali comfortably retained the overall lead. But arguably the most eye-catching performance came from American Andrew Talansky, who rode for hours at the back of the pack with excruciating back pains after crashing on successive stages last week.
Here are five things about the Tour de France on Wednesday:
Although American rider Andrew Talansky finished Stage 11 in last place and more than 30 minutes behind stage winner Tony Gallopin, Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme hailed his performance as "more than a victory" because of its courage.
Talansky rode for hours behind the peloton, his face contorted with pain as the effects of two crashes on successive stages last week took their toll on his lower back.
At one point, Talansky climbed off his bike with 60 kilometers (37 miles) to go, sat down and clutched his back, before deciding to climb back into the saddle and continue.
"He's an example of courage, even more so because he was one of the favorites for the Tour and came to win," Prudhomme told The Associated Press after the stage. "He was in the role of the unknown champion at the Tour, the one who digs deep within himself to finish inside the time."
The 25-year-old Talansky is riding in only his second Tour and is touted as a future winner.
"Many riders would have abandoned, and what he did there will no doubt serve him well in two, three or four years," said Prudhomme.
Peter Sagan didn't get the win he hoped for in Wednesday's 11th stage — but he did take some flowers for his girlfriend's birthday.
The 24-year-old Sagan got the flowers after stepping onto the podium to slip on the green jersey that goes to the rider in the leading position for the best sprinter award.
"I wanted to win the stage today. I was hoping for a win, but I got the flowers from the podium (instead)," Sagan said. "It's my girlfriend's birthday today, and I'm happy for her. After the race, it's important to have another life."
The Slovak rider had hoped for his fifth stage win — but found himself too isolated and lacking support from other riders.
"No one wants to work with me because they know I'll probably beat them in the sprint ... Everybody knows me," he said, after finishing in ninth place.
"If I don't win stages, I can hope for the green jersey," he added. "I'm hoping for the green jersey in Paris."
His chances look good. He has 301 points in the standings with Frenchman Bryan Coquard on 164 and German Marcel Kittel on 157.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Nicolas Roche got a taste of what his father often experienced when he finally stepped onto the Tour de France podium after Stage 11.
Although Roche did not win the stage, finishing about eight minutes behind winner Tony Gallopin, his aggressive riding and attacking intent saw him win the "Prix de la Combativite" — awarded after each stage to that day's most combative rider.
"It is (special) because it's my first time on a podium on the Tour, apart from the team prize. It's a new experience," he said. "I attacked and put a lot of energy and effort today to go for the stage (win). When the front of the peloton caught me, there was nothing I could do about it."
The 30-year-old Roche has dual Irish-French nationality but made the decision several years ago to ride for Ireland — and was Irish champion in 2009.
He is the son of Irishman Stephen Roche — who experienced that podium feeling many times in a highly successful career in which he won the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia in 1987.
The hottest day of the Tour de France so far left an impression on the riders after some inclement weather during the first 10 stages.
Although the air temperature only went up as high as 28 degrees Celsius (82.4 degrees Fahrenheit) the heat coming off the tarmac roads was much higher and had reached up to 40 C (104 F) by mid-afternoon.
"The first big heat hurt us. It's difficult to adapt after days of rain and especially as we raced fast all day," said Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, who finished the stage in 30th place and is sixth overall. "It got tense at the end. It was inevitable that some riders would struggle."
German rider John Degenkolb feels confident he can finally clinch a first Tour stage win after finishing second behind Gallopin on Wednesday.
While countryman Marcel Kittel has already won three stages, Degenkolb has been hampered by a muscle injury since Stage 5.
"It was close. I really believed in my chances. I will try again tomorrow because that second place really gave me my self-confidence back," Degenkolb said. "The good news is that I don't feel the pain as much. It was the hardest week of my career on a bike."
The 25-year-old Degenkolb has won five stages on the Spanish Vuelta and one on the Giro d'Italia.