Mark Cavendish reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the 11th stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday. ((Laurent Rebours/Associated Press))

Mark Cavendish won the 11th stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday by beating Tyler Farrar in a sprint finish on a flat stage, and Rinaldo Nocentini of Italy held on to the yellow jersey.

Cavendish earned his second straight stage win and fourth of this year's Tour. The British sprinter finished about half a bike length ahead of Farrar in the 192-kilometre trek from Vatan to Saint-Fargeau.

Cavendish's win saw him take the green jersey and equal British rider Barry Hoban's tally of eight Tour stage wins.

"You can talk all day about how great you are at the dinner table," the 24-year-old Cavendish said. "Success is the biggest motivation for anyone."

Yauheni Hutarovich of Belarus finished the stage in third place. Cavendish, winner of four stages in last year's Tour, took the green jersey for best sprinter from Thor Hushovd of Norway, who finished fifth and rides for Canadian-owned Cervelo Test Team.

Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong finishing safely in the main pack and remains in third place, with Astana teammate Alberto Contador narrowly ahead of him in second place overall.

The general classification stayed the same, with Nocentini leading Contador by six seconds. Armstrong trails by eight seconds.

"I feel in very good shape," Nocentini said. "I hope to keep the yellow jersey."

Cavendish, meanwhile, will defend the green jersey on another flat stage Thursday before the race heads into a medium mountain stage on Friday. He failed to complete last year's race.

"Friday is going to be a tough day," Nocentini said.

Two early crashes saw several riders fall — including Nocentini — and gave Belgian rider Johan Van Summeren and Marcin Sapa of Poland the opportunity to break away after about 30 kilometres.

"I was in a fall, but nothing too serious. I didn't hurt myself," Nocentini said. "We crashed after about 30 kilometres. A lot of riders fell, me also. But I managed to get back up and finish calmly."

They were eventually caught by the chasing pack, led by the Team Columbia-Highroad riders, about five kilometres from the finish.

Garmin-Slipstream rider and Victoria native Ryder Hesjadel also crashed on Wednesday.

Hesjadel, the lone Canadian at this year's Tour, touched the wheel of a cyclist ahead of him and went down heavily on his right wrist, requiring medical attention with about 45 kilometres to go. Hesjadel finished the stage 156th and is 69th overall.