Team Sky emerged from the chaos on stage one of the Tour de France as the results were neutralised in Corsica.
Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas were both involved in late crashes but escaped without fractures as the race was thrown into turmoil on the approach to Bastia.
In a bizarre turn of events, the finish line was temporarily blocked as the Orica-GreenEDGE bus became stuck against the overhead gantry.
A new finish was mooted at three kilometres out, before quickly being switched back as the bus finally dislodged itself, but not before carnage hit the peloton in the form of a huge crash.
Thomas went down along with a host of big names including Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff). Pre-stage favourite Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) was also held up, while Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol), whose movement led in part to the crash, was held up with a mechanical.
The confusion ensured a reduced bunch headed into the final kilometre, with Marcel Kittel benefiting to claim the bunch kick and the first yellow jersey of the race. The German held off the attentions of Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Danny Van Poppel (Vacansoleil-DCM) to cap the biggest win of his career.
Three Team Sky riders crossed the line in the lead group – Edvald Boasson Hagen contesting the sprint, with Chris Froome and Richie Porte finishing safely in behind.
Stage to remember
The race got off to a less-than-ideal start for Froome, after the Brit hit a kerb in the neutralised zone, going down briefly before changing bike and returning to the peloton ahead of the flag drop.
After the finish, the Brit commented on the early tumble, confirming: “I managed to get through the rest of the day unscathed and if that’s the only crash I have this Tour I’ll take that!
“I don’t think any of us expected it was going to be plain sailing today, but there were some pretty brutal crashes in the final there. Again it’s just another reminder that this Tour is about so much more than having the form and being here. It’s about staying out of trouble and looking after ourselves in the peloton at the same time.
“I felt like guys were crashing all around me, but I managed to pick my way through and chase to get back on just in time for the final.
“There was some uncertainty there in the final, but the main thing is that most of us have come through all right. G has gone to have some checks. He looks okay but it’s better to be on the safe side.”
It took no time for the day’s break to show itself with five riders - Jérome Cousin (Europcar), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Lars Boom (Belkin), Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) - heading up the road.
The fourth-category Cote de Sotta and its single mountain point was the early focus for the quintet, Lobato winning a keenly contested sprint to become the first recipient of the polka dot jersey.
With a sprint finish a near-certainty, the peloton kept close tabs on the break, the gap rising and falling along the coastal roads in a disjointed chase.
The intermediate sprint at San-Giuliano played out in intriguing fashion, with Boom taking the maximum 20 points from the break, but all eyes were on the fight for sixth. Greipel took top honours and 10 points, while Cavendish, not at full speed, edged out Sagan for nine.
With 35km to go the pace shot up with RadioShack-Leopard and Team Saxo-Tinkoff both active on the front. Team Sky reacted strongly to the move and hit the front to regain control before chaos ensued.
Thomas and Stannard were taken to the hospital to be checked over after finishing the stage before being given the all-clear.