AVIGNON, FRANCE, JULY 17 -- Dutchman Jean-Paul Van Poppel outsprinted the pack today to win the 17th stage of the Tour de France cycling race in a photo finish, but Charles Mottet of France retained the leader's yellow jersey.

Van Poppel beat Italian Guido Bontempi by the width of a tire tube in the 148.5-mile route from Millau to Avignon.

The climbers dominated the first part of the course, leading up to the second category climb at the Aigoual Pass, where Colombia's Luis Herrera gained enough ground to overtake Raul Alcala of Mexico as leader of the king-of-the-mountain competition.

On the descent, the riders chose caution rather than attempting breakaways.

At 12 miles from the line, Alcala unsuccessfully attempted to break. Jean-Francois Bernard of France and compatriot Laurent Fignon also made unsuccessful break attempts.

Former tour leader Martial Gayant of France tried to spurt ahead on entering Avignon. The other riders caught him, however, and the stage was left to the sprinters.

It was the second stage win for Van Poppel, who beat Bontempi by the narrowest victory margin so far in the tour. He had won the eighth stage at Epinay-sous-Senart last week.

He said with a smile afterwards, "I had no idea who had won, I had my eyes closed."

In the women's Tour, Monique Knol of the Netherlands won the sprint in the eighth stage, and France's Jeannie Longo kept her overall lead.

Knol crossed the line of the 65-mile route from Saint-Hippolyte-du-Fort to Avignon in 2 hours 32 minutes and 37 seconds.