SAINT-AMAND-MONTROND, France -- On a contrasting day for British riders at the Tour de France, Mark Cavendish moved up the list of sprint greats while Chris Froome lost a large chunk of his overall lead to his main rival.

Cavendish sealed his 25th stage win to move into a tie for third place on the Tour's all-time list, during an eventful day in which Froome gave up more than one minute to two-time former champion Alberto Contador.

To make things more worrisome for Froome, he once again had to fend for himself at the end because none of his withering Sky teammates could keep the pace. Sky is down to seven riders.

This is the second stage so far it has been unable to support him, and with a tough mountain trek looming on Sunday rivals may try to take advantage.

Dutchman Bauke Mollema is 2 minutes, 28 seconds behind Froome, and Contador is 2:45 back -- both having gained 1:09 on the leader.

Contador, the Tour champion in 2007 and '09 who was stripped of his title the following year for doping, is now looking like a serious contender again after struggling in the Pyrenees. Froome knows that Sunday's massive climb up to Mont Ventoux could have a major bearing on the race.

Flat stages are normally relatively free of incident, but the 173-kilometer (107.5-mile) trek from Tours, which is surrounded by the Loire river, to Saint-Amand-Montrond in central France was quite the opposite.


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With about a third of the stage gone, the main pack split into three and Alejandro Valverde dropped way out of contention after stopping to repair a puncture. None of the teams waited, and he lost a huge amount of time, dropping from second overnight to 16th.