With the sprinters saving their legs for the finish and the overall contenders taking an easy day, stage 3 of the Tour de France provided maximum drama for the mountains classification, if little else.
After making the break of the day, a crash for Cofidis' Anthony Perez, following a puncture, took him out of the running for the polka dot jersey and out of the race altogether with a suspected broken collarbone.
Benoît Cosnefroy (AG2R La Mondiale) and Perez started the day tied on points in the mountains classification after the pair made stage 2's breakaway. There, Cosnefroy beat the Cofidis rider to the top of the category 1 Col de la Colmaine and then Perez turned the tables on the Col de Turini.
On Monday, the Cofidis rider got the better of Cosnefroy on the first two category-3 climbs – the Col du Pilon and the Col de la Faye – to take the virtual lead of the mountains classification and put himself in a position where he effectively just needed to make it to the finish to take the polka-dot jersey.
On the third ascent, however, Perez punctured as Cosnefroy sprinted for the summit, and then crashed on the descent of the Col des Lèques after colliding with the Cofidis team car. His team later said Perez suffered an open fracture of his 11th rib and a pneumothorax. He will spend several days under observation at the hospital in Digne-les-Bains.
"This is sad news for the whole team. What happened today to Anthony is too unfair," Cofidis team director Cedric Vasseur said. "His hopes of wearing the polka-dot jersey went out the window in a fraction of a second. He really had his heart set on getting the points for the polka-dot jersey but unfortunately he was forced to retire from the Tour de France. We all wish him a speedy recovery."
By that point, they were racing in the bunch, having left the third breakaway member Jérôme Cousin (Total Direct Energie) to go it alone with some 130km to go. Cousin lasted until the 16km-to-go mark, taking the combativity award for his troubles.
Cosnefroy stood on the podium in polka dots at the end of the day, but felt bad for Perez, who would have led the competition by two points had he continued.
"Anthony beat me fair and square on the first two climbs, then on the third climb he punctured just before the summit and crashed on the descent. That's really annoying for him, and I give him all my support," Cosnefroy said. "I heard he broke his collarbone, so it's a bit odd for me to keep the jersey like this."
It seemed like the newly designed grid-patterned polka dot jersey was cursed when Cosnefroy himself crashed with 4km to go, but luckily he was able to remount and finish the stage.
"It wasn't the end we'd hoped for but it was still a nice day with the polka-dot jersey on the shoulders," he said.
"I was last in the bunch, not wanting to take any risks but there was a crash in front of me and I couldn't avoid it. I fell on my right elbow, the same one I fell on on the opening day."
Cosnefroy leads the mountains classification by nine points ahead of stage 2 breakaway companion Michael Gogl (NTT Pro Cycling) with Toms Skujinš (Trek-Segafredo) in third.
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