Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) romped to victory on stage three of the Tour de France with an incredible show of strength on the final climb in Boulogne sur Mer.
The 22-year-old, riding in his first Tour de France, left his rivals for dead on the fourth category finish to claim his second stage victory in three days after previously winning stage one, again on an uphill finish, on Sunday.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) finished second ahead of Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), while Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) crossed the line in fourth to defend his overall lead.
Bradley Wiggins was held up by a crash with team-mate Chris Froome in the finale but receives the same time as Sagan as the crash was inside the final three kilometres and the Team Sky leader was in the same group as the winner.
Froome said: “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.”
Five riders went clear at the start of the 197km stage, which featured five steep climbs inside the final 33km, with King of the Mountains leader Michael Morkov joined by Giovanni Bernaudeau (Europcar), Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sebastien Minard (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Andriy Grivko (Astana).
Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) won the peloton intermediate sprint for sixth at a canter, with enough energy in the tank to turn and remonstrate with Kenny Van Hummel mid-sprint after the Vacansoleil-DCM rider almost clipped the world champion’s front wheel.
A serious of short, steep climbs and twisting, technical roads made for a nervous peloton and a crash with 50km to go resulted in the first abandonment of the Tour, with Team Sky’s Kanstantin Siutsou, a key ally for Wiggins, out with a fractured left tibia.
Jose Rojas’s (Movistar) Tour de France was then cut short after another crash with 29km remaining left the Spaniard, runner-up to Cavendish in last year’s green jersey competition, on the road clutching his collarbone.
Both crashes held up a large number of riders, blowing the peloton into three groups behind the five leaders, with a number of candidates for the stage victory knocked out of the running, although Wiggins and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) were both well-placed in the front group.
Morkov and Grivko were the last of the five escapees to stay away but the duo were reeled in by the front group on the penultimate climb, the category four ascent of the Cote du Mont Lambert.
Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), a man at home on the terrain after winning the 2011 French National Championships in the area, launched an audacious attack with five kilometres to go, pulling out a 15 second advantage on the descent of the Cote du Mont Lambert ahead of the final climb to the finish.
Chavanel, who finished third in the opening prologue, sensed an opportunity to take the yellow jersey off the shoulder of Cancellaras, while BMC Racing took up the chase in aid of Evans.
Chavanel was caught as the marauding bunch galloped onto the short but steep final climb, a 0.7km ascent averaging 7.4 per cent, with a host of riders moving to the front in search of victory.
But no-one could match Sagan, who has gained a formidable reputation on uphill finishes, and the Slovak national road race champion built up enough of a lead after attacking in the final 300m to dance across the line.
1) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Liquigas-Cannondale – 4:42.56 hours
2) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky +1″
3) Peter Velits (SVK) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
4) Fabian Cancellara (SWI) – Radioshack-Nissan-Trek
5) Michael Albasini (SWI) – Orica-GreenEDGE
6) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing
7) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – Ag2r La Mondiale
8) Samuel Sanchez (SPA) – Euskaltel – Euskadi
9) Bauke Mollema (NED) – Rabobank Cycling Team
10) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Liquigas-Cannondale
1) Fabian Cancellara (SWI) RadioShack-Nissan-Trek – 14:45.30 hours
2) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Team Sky +7″
3) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +7″
4) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +10″
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky +11″
6) Denis Menchov (RUS) Katusha +13″
7) Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC Racing +17″
8) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas-Cannondale +18″
9) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda – same time
10) Andreas Klöden (GER) RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +19″