Tim Merlier won a bloody and bruising stage three of the Tour de France in Pontivy as another day of crashes again brought chaos to the race.
Geraint Thomas was the first to fall – completing 140 kilometres after having a dislocated shoulder put back into place – but the race was upended in the final 10 kilometres as Primoz Roglic hit the deck painfully while defending champion Tadej Pogacar was held up by a crash which ended Jack Haig’s Tour.
Caleb Ewan also crashed late on, taking down former world champion Peter Sagan as both wound up for a sprint finish.
Mathieu van der Poel retained the leader’s yellow jersey, finishing just behind Alpecin-Fenix team-mate Merlier.
“I’m living a dream I think,” said Merlier, who has now claimed maiden stage wins at both the Tour and Giro d’Italia this year.
“After the Giro I was already really happy and now I win a stage on the Tour, the biggest race in the world. I can’t believe it.”
A relatively flat parcours had promised a largely uneventful day, with fireworks expected on the final sprint where Mark Cavendish was hoping to collect his 31st stage victory, five years on from his last.
However, it proved anything but uneventful with Jumbo’s-Visma’s Robert Gesink being forced to abandon as a consequence of Thomas’ fall inside the opening 50km.
The Welshman looked in agony as he sat on the tarmac but eventually carried on after receiving roadside attention to put his shoulder back in place, bridging a three-minute-plus gap to regain contact with the peloton after team-mates dropped back in support.
Following a post-stage scan and x-ray we're pleased to confirm @GeraintThomas86 has not suffered a fracture in his right shoulder. He will be reassessed in the morning before stage four #TDF2021 pic.twitter.com/Rgy0yBmZfF
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) June 28, 2021
As sprint trains assembled and with the peloton at full speed, Groupama-FDJ’s French rider Valentin Madouas fell with 12km remaining, causing a snarl-up which denied Cavendish, who damaged his bike, the opportunity to contest the final sprint.
Roglic hit the deck painfully 10km from the line while defending champion Tadej Pogacar was held up by a crash that ended Jack Haig’s Tour.
Ewan, arguably the fastest man in the field had talked up his chances of winning in Pontivy, suffered a broken collarbone after losing control of his bike and colliding with Sagan in sight of the finish.
Lotto Soudal later confirmed that their Australian sprinter would be leaving the Tour because of his injuries.
While Van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe stayed first and second in the GC battle, a day of major incidents saw a raft of changes below them.
Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Richard Carapaz profited from steering clear of trouble in a chaotic conclusion to climb 15 places into third overall, while Wout van Aert rose to fourth from 19th.
Pogacar, who came home in a group containing Thomas, 26 seconds behind Merlier, compared the finale to the stage with a “war zone”.
And Roglic, who had been fourth overnight but conceded almost a minute to his fellow Slovenian, finished one minute and 21 seconds after the stage winner.