Six riders had earlier formed the day’s break, with Artur Ershov (Gazprom-RusVelo), Kazushige Kuboki (Nippo-Vini Fantini), David Lozano (Novo Nordisk), Mirco Maestri (Bardiani-CSF), Manuele Mori (UAE Team Emirates) and Artyom Zakharov getting up the road.
Their advantage peaked at more than five minutes, but the sprint teams – not least Cavendish’s Dimension Data – worked well on the front to keep that under control.
As riders dropped from the front group, there never looked any danger of the race not finishing in a bunch sprint and the final escapees were reeled in with 17km to go.
A chaotic finale did ensue, however, with first Contador hitting the deck and facing a frantic chase back on with just a few kilometres remaining.
The Spaniard, aboard a team-mate’s back, did latch back on but a pinch point under the flamme rouge caused more chaos as QuickStep Floors and Dimension Data fought for position on the front.
Kittel and Ewan were the highest profile victims, while Doull and Dowsett also hit the deck – the Welshman suffered bad tears to his kit and a laceration through his shoe, in his first race for Team Sky after having his appendix removed.