Peter Sagan danced his way to his second Tour de France win in stage 3 to Boulogne-sur-Mer. The Slovakian champion and green jersey holder unleashed his powerful acceleration in the final hundred meters, distancing Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), who held on for second over Peter Velits of Omega Pharma-QuickStep. A fourth place finish was enough for RadioShack-Nissan's Fabian Cancellara to hold on to his overall lead.
The final climb saw a large group going up for the win in a difficult situation. Oscar Freire of Katusha was squeezed in the dash for the line by a Vacansoleil rider, and set off a crash. It was mostly contained on one side of the road, holding up a number of riders already out of contention for the stage, but all were given the same time as the main bunch. Held up was Denis Menchov (Katusha), Bradley Wiggins and his Sky Procycling teammate Chris Froome. The latter toppled into the barriers but emerged unscathed.
The day was marked by climbs and crashes in the last half of the day. Garmin-Sharp suffered the worst luck of the bunch, although Ryder Hesjedal overcame a late-race puncture to regain the front group and ultimately finish the stage in 12th, the rest of the team's climbers - Dan Martin, Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson, in addition to sprinter Tyler Farrar, were held up by a large crash in the final 20km and never regained the front of the race.
Team Sky lost one important helper in Kanstantsin Siutsou, who abandoned after a crash, as did Movistar's sprinter JJ Rojas.
Mørkøv strikes again
Once again, all 198 riders were at the start in Orchies, with the race having finally moved into France. It took only five kilometers for the day's group to form. Andriy Grivko (Astana), Giovanni Bernaudeau (Europcar), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sebastien Minard (AG2R) and Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) took off and quickly built up a gap of 5:40 by km 30. That was enough for the field, and it soon came down to under five minutes.
It was a return appearance for Mørkøv, who has been in the escape group for all three road stages. He took the mountain jersey in the first stage and gathered points one by one in the first two stage to hold on to it.
With some 107km to go, RadioShack got help with the chase. Sylvester Szmyd of Liquigas turned up at the head of the field, an obvious signal that Peter Sagan would be looking for his chance in the difficult last half of the stage.
The first half of the stage was nearly dead flat, and the field was happy enough to roll along, keeping the break group on a long rein, knowing that the fireworks would come soon enough.
The break group rolled right under the intermediate sprint banner as if it were not there, but things were different behind them.
GreenEdge led the charge for the intermediate sprint, and it was a wild sprint. Mark Cavendish looked like he was boxed in but as so often, managed to pull it out at the last minute. And he even turned back to have a word with Kenny Van Hummel of Vacansoleil, who had unnecessarily boxed him in.
As expected, Mørkøv took advantage of being in the lead group to grab the points at the first climb of the day.
Climbing and crashing
And as the field moved onto the narrow roads that would take them over the climbs, the crashes started. Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal was involved in an early one. Only minutes later a more serious crash took out Kanstantsin Siutsou (Sky), who became the first rider to abandon the race.
With 37km to go and a gap of about 2:30, the break group kicked up the speed, and managed to drop one of their number, Bernaudeau. Mørkøv took the points on the second climb as well. The peloton picked up their speed as well, to cut the gap. Between the acceleration and the climbs, the sprinters, especially the wounded ones, started dropping off the back.
Not long there after another crash took down a number of riders, including Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge). JJ Rojas (Movistar) and Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) appeared to be injured, Rojas abandoned with an suspected broken collarbone. The crash also split the field, with many riders having a long way to go to catch up again. Even Philippe Gilbert was apparently caught up in it.
Things were frantic form there on. The lead group tried its hardest to stay away, but BMC grabbed control of the chase group and brought the gap down dramatically. Riders were desperate to get up to the front, but Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) was busy with a stuck rear derailleur and waved down the neutral support car for repairs.
Grivko and Sanchez took the next climb alone in the lead, but with only 16km to go, there were still three more to come.
Gilbert, thought to be a favourite for this stage, was stuck back in one of the chase groups, as was Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), and both were struggling.
Yellow jersey Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) was still in the large first group, as were top race favourites Cadel Evans (BMC) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Peter Sagan must also have been there, as a Liquigas rider was often in the lead. And with 10.5km to go, raindrops started to appear.
At the 10km marker, Mørkøv and Grivko had only 28 seconds on the high-powered chase group, and still two more climbs to go. And at 7.3m to go, Mørkøv was caught, leaving the Astana rider alone with a minimal lead. He too was soon overtaken by the chase group.
With 5.5km to go, Sylvain Chavanel of Omega Pharma-QuickStep attacked out of the field. It was familiar terrain for the Frenchman and he popped over the last rise before a long descent, and gradually pulled away.
A roundabout with 2km to go gave Chavanel a problem, and in the peloton behind, Movistar's Alejandro Valverde also had difficulties with it: both had to brake hard and lost ground as the final climb to the finish approached.
Chavanel retained his lead going into the final kilometer, but the thundering horde gave him no chance. Although a crash halfway up broke up the field, the powerful sprinters at the front sailed past the Frenchman.
GreenEdge's Michael Albasini led the way up, but Sagan jumped by him and easily went on for the win, whilst behind him, Boasson Hagen and Velits struggled up the steep climb to fill out the podium.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale||4:42:58|
|2||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling||0:00:01|
|3||Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Sharp||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Wouter Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Katusha Team||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quickstep||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Team Europcar||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Baden Cooke (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team||Row 43 - Cell 2|