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The Tour hits France and Peter Sagan hits out again
Jul 4th, 12 - Stage 3. Today the peloton hit France for the first time this Tour de France, but for the second time it was Peter Sagan who took stage victory.
With six categories climbs - four in the final 16km of the 197km race from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer - today looked to be a day for excitement.
Unfortunately for Team Sky's Kanstantsin Sivtsov, Movistar's José Rojas and Rabobank's Martin Tjallingii, it was the last excitement they will have this Tour.
The first two riders were forced to abandon with broken bones (leg and collarbone respectively) and while the latter finished the stage, he later found he had broken his hip.
The stage had more than a handul of accidents. Had it not been for the 3km rule which adjusts time gaps due to crashes, the GC would look very different as an incident in the final few hundred metres of the stage caught many riders out.
Ahead of the chaos, Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan of Liquigas powered ahead to take his second win of the Tour. His surge overtook Michael Albasini who had looked like he was about to earn Orica GreenEdge their first Tour de France win, and held off counterattacks by Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Peter Velits (Omega Pharma Quickstep).
Sagan's victory, his 15th this season, gave him more of a buffer in the Green Jersey competition.
"It's been a difficult stage with an ending where you could only win if you had good legs. I am very, very happy for this success," said Sagan who went on to acknowedge the support of this teammates.
"I am very happy and it is an incentive to believe in the dream of wearing the Green Jersey to Paris. A third win? I always try to win and if there's a chance I'll try. "
In yellow, Fabian Cancellara kept his place at the top of the General Classification thanks to his RadioShack Nissan Trek team controlling the time gap of the day's breakaway. Cancellara ended the stage with a strong showing to place 4th.
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) retained his white Best Young Rider jersey. He was one of the riders caught up by the late crash and was thankful for the 3km safety zone.
For the third road stage in a row, the Polka Dot jersey on Michael Morkov (Team SaxoBank Tinkoff Bank) was in the small breakaway group.
He claimed all the points on offer over the first four KOMs until he was caught with 8km to go.
By this time, crashes and crosswinds had split the peloton.
Sylvain Chavanel gave the French something to celebrate when he attacked over the penultimate climb 5km before the finish line.
The Omega Pharma Quickstep rider earned a 12sec gap and became the leader on the road until he was caught with 500m left to ride up the energy zapping 700m, 7.4% final climb.
"It was planned to attack there. My goal was to gain a few seconds and go full gas on the downhill to make a gap between me and the group," explained Chavanel. "I did it, but it wasn't enough. In any case I attacked and I tried to win. With Sagan at the sprint, it is almost impossible to win. Now we will see day by day."
After the Frenchman was neutralised, the next rider to attack was Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil), then Albasini, and finally the victorious attack by Sagan.
Behind them, Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil) got tangled up with a Katusha rider and crashed to the ground, holding up a number of riders including 2nd placed GC rider Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
The main crashes
At 79km, Jani Brajkovic (Astana) was the worst affected by a crash in the peloton. He quickly remounted and caught the bunch 6km later.
At the 140km mark there was a fall that involved Tyler Farrar and Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Sharp), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Sivtsov. The worst affected was Sivtsov who stayed on the road for quite some time and then, ultimately, was forced to abandon because of his injuries. Team Sky later announced their rider had a fractured tibia.
Also injured today were Tom Danielson (Garmin Sharp Barracuda) and Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank)
"Separated shoulder from today's crash. Finished today thanks to my teammates," Danielso wrote on twitter. He finished +9m11s.
Tjallingii finished the race but later found he had broken his hip and is out of the Tour. "This is one of the most disappointing moments in my life. Broke my hip," he twittered.
There are no reports of significant injuries from the crash just before the finish line.
NZ's Greg Henderson had two "touch downs" during the stage - read his account of the day here ...
Even after the adjustments for the late crash, a couple of top riders finished the stage with time gaps to their rivals.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) lost 58sec while 2011 Tour de France crowd favourite Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) lost 7m27s. Voeckler may not have been a realistic GC podium chance, but with a significant time gap he will now be allowed more freedom - expect fireworks from him later in the Tour!
BMC's Philippe Gilbert, who started the day 8th overall +13sec, lost 7m46s today. He hit the ground when someone collided with him from behind. Though he was not seriously hurt, his left shoe was damaged.
"I had to change it and all the cars were blocked behind the crash," Gilbert said. "So when I finally could change it, my race was over."
Movistar's Alejandro Valverde was lucky not to lose time after he missed a tight turn with 2km to go. His return to the front of the race was hampered by the late crash but, despite losing 7sec, the race jury neutralized the times from the 60-rider front group and he kept the same GC time gap as he had at the start of the day.
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