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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.
A bunch sprint had been anticipated at the end of the 183km stage from Lorient, but Mark Cavendish was denied the chance to contest it, not crashing himself but losing four spokes in the carnage, while Caleb Ewan suffered a broken collarbone in a crash that also caught Peter Sagan in sight of the line.
Cavendish rolled in more than two minutes down after surveying some of the damage in the finale.
“I just count myself lucky I didn’t come down,” said the Manxman, who will hope for better when stage four heads to Fougeres – scene of his 2015 victory – on Tuesday.
“I saw Caleb when I was crossing the line and he didn’t look good, I just hope he’s OK. It looked sketchy. Though I didn’t get to sprint I think I was fortunate today.”
The crashes made for a major rewriting of the general classification, though Mathieu van der Poel retained the yellow jersey after helping to provide the lead-out for team-mate Merlier – delivering a second successive stage win for Alpecin-Fenix in their Tour debut.
Julian Alaphilippe remains second, eight seconds down, but it is now Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Richard Carapaz who is up to third, 31 seconds down, as one of the few overall contenders to avoid the delays.
Thomas and Pogacar were part of a group to come in 26 seconds behind Merlier, while Roglic finished 81 seconds down despite the best efforts of his Jumbo-Visma team-mates, who had made a frantic bid to bring him back to the peloton after his crash.
A post-stage x-ray found no fractures for Thomas, with the Ineos Grenadiers saying he would be assessed before Tuesday’s stage
It proved a costly day for Jumbo-Visma, with Robert Gesink abandoning the race after both he and Tony Martin struck Thomas when the Welshman went down.
A number of riders complained after the stage that requests for time gaps to be taken eight kilometres from the line, removing some of the danger, did not receive a response.
Thomas had been the first to go down, losing control on a bump in the road as rain fell early in the stage.
Luke Rowe initially seemed to signal the Welshman’s race was over, but after receiving treatment he remounted and with the help of Rowe and two other team-mates he recovered what had been a three-minute deficit to the peloton.
But the nerves ramped up as Pontivy neared.
Roglic appeared to get a nudge as he fell out of the side of the peloton to land painfully, and with the pace on not even the full power of the Jumbo-Visma squad could get him back to the peloton.
Their cause was hardly helped as riders had to slow after several span out on a corner a little over four kilometres from the end, forcing Haig to abandon.
Merlier had been oblivious to much of the chaos behind him, getting a lead out from both Van der Poel and Jasper Philipsen, who took second on the stage.
“I’m living a dream I think,” Merlier said. “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.
“(Van der Poel) said he was going to do the lead out and I said: ‘You are crazy,’ but he loves to do it. Jasper took over with 700m to go so I only needed to pull for the last 150m.
“When I look around me I can’t believe there is nobody on the wheel, but you say there is a crash so that will be the reason.”