Edvald Boasson Hagen produced another fine performance to take second on stage three of the Tour de France as Bradley Wiggins maintained that same position overall.
The Norwegian rose to the head of the peloton again on a tough uphill finish into Boulogne-sur-Mer which saw Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) produce another virtuoso performance.
A reduced bunch finish allowed overnight leader Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) to maintain his seven-second hold on the yellow jersey over Wiggins. The Brit, along with team-mates Chris Froome and Michael Rogers were held up behind a late crash but were handed the same time as the rest of the peloton on the day.
The stage was an action-packed affair with a quartet of categorised climbs in the finale producing some exciting racing which took its toll on the peloton.
A number of crashes marred the run for home and caused the bunch to split in half on some tougher-than-expected terrain in North France.
The 197-kilometre test from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer always looked set to be the toughest day of the race thus far and so it proved out on the road.
With 52km left to run a fairly innocuous crash saw huge disappointment for Team Sky as Kanstantsin Siutsou went down and became the first abandonment of the Tour with a fractured tibia.
Team Sky doctor Alan Farrell gave us the update following the stage, confirming: “Kanstantsin was forced to abandon the Tour today after fracturing his left tibia in a heavy fall. The injury requires surgery and we are now working to establish the best course of action moving forwards.”
Five riders headed clear inside the opening five kilometres including, for the third stage running, the polka dot jersey of Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) – the Dane extending his advantage throughout the day.
The escapees built up a buffer of 5:40 with RadioShack-Nissan once again taking up controlling duties on behalf of leader Cancellara.
The first real action of the day came at the intermediate sprint, the battle between the fast men renewed with 10 points up for grabs in Senlecques with 78km to go.
Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) came out on top with a calm performance under pressure, jutting around the Orica-GreenEDGE train to take maximum points ahead of Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Sagan.
Battle of attrition
Later a second crash saw the peloton split apart in the aftermath, a number of contenders for the stage win caught out, among them Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). Significantly for the team Cavendish, along with Christian Knees and Richie Porte were held up in the second group.
With two distinct groups formed the gap between the two extended out as first Liquigas-Cannondale, moving towards the front in bigger numbers, and then RadioShack-Nissan drilled hard on the front.
Andriy Grivko (Astana) was the last man to be caught 6.6km from home, setting the scene for a brave late dig from Sylvain Chavanel. The Omega Pharma-Quickstep rider pushed hard but was caught on the steep final climb as Sagan took the spoils.
Froome was lucky to escape injury after partially vaulting the barriers on the frantic run to the line. He said: “Today was mayhem and towards the end everyone was fighting to be at the front of the bunch because that's the safest place to be. You can't have 200 riders on the front though and there were a lot of crashes as a result. We are a man down because of that and it looks like Siutsou's broken his leg - that's a big loss for us but in terms of the general classification, Bradley's still safe so that's one positive.
“As for my tumble at the end, I was trying to stay out of trouble but there was a Vacansoleil rider immediately in front of me and he went into the barriers and he took me with him. There was nowhere to go. Bradley was just behind me and he got caught up in it but thankfully didn't hit the ground. Condition-wise, my legs are feeling great so I just want to get into the mountains now and away from these flat, nervous roads.”
Another stage down
After the stage Sean Yates reflected on a difficult day which saw the team take their fourth consecutive podium place but lose a valuable member in the process.
He said: “It was a tough day today. It’s the Tour and it’s always going to be hectic. Kosta was the victim today. We will miss him over the course of the next two-and-a-half weeks.
“When it gets to the pointy end of the race with climbs and those narrow roads everyone wants to be at the front. There are crashes at other races but at the Tour it always seems to happen that much more.
“Eddy gave it his best shot at the finish but Sagan was on another level. He’s proven that once again. The main thing for us was that Bradley stayed upright and didn’t lose any time but we are sad to see Kosta go home tonight.”