Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish claimed a sensational victory on the fifth stage of the Tour de France on a day of thrills and spills in Brittany.
The 164.5-kilometres stage from Carhaix to Cap Frehel on the Brittany coast saw Janez Brajkovic taken to hospital after crashing out of the Tour and Nicki Sorensen, the Danish champion, pulled down by a photographer’s motorbike.
Sorensen’s team leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins were among those also to fall, while Tom Boonen (QuickStep) had a heavy tumble on the tarmac and suffered for much of the day.
The finale along narrow, undulating roads was always going to be challenging and so it proved, with numerous attacks attempted and foiled as the stage ended in a sprint finish.
And after his HTC-Highroad team-mate Tony Martin led the peloton into the final straight, Cavendish came from well down to accelerate around the peloton, including Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, to take the 16th Tour stage success of his career.
Stage one winner Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was second, with Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) third and Thomas fifth.
The overall rankings were unchanged with Thor Hushovd retaining the race leader’s yellow jersey.
French trio Tristan Valentin (Cofidis), Sebastien Turgot (Europcar), Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) and Spain’s Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Movistar) formed the day’s breakaway, which began after 4km.
Behind them, with around 100km to go, the peloton endured a crash-strewn spell on the narrow roads of Brittany, with Contador, Wiggins (Team Sky), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Brajkovic (RadioShack) all tumbling to the tarmac.
Sorensen, Contador’s team-mate, became the latest rider to fall when his handlebars became entangled in a photographer’s motorbike.
While Sorensen was able to return, Brajkovic was not and was forced to abandon a Tour he began with ambitions of a high overall finish. He was later taken to hospital.
Wiggins came off relatively unscathed by comparison, merely requiring a bike change and five team-mates to help him return to the peloton following his spill.
The crashes came in a frantic spell which included the day’s intermediate sprint – something else which was full of incident.
After the four escapees took the first points available, Borut Bozic led the peloton over the line, but only after Cavendish had been squeezed out of contention.
The Briton’s bid to claim the points classification leader’s green jersey was dented by rival sprinters Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Boonen.
Rojas, the green jersey incumbent, and Boonen could yet find themselves relegated for obstructing their rival after moving to the left of the road, nudging the Manxman out of contention.
Cavendish sat up, rolling over the intermediate sprint line, but would stand to benefit if either Boonen or Rojas are docked points.
Garmin-Cervelo then sought to take advantage of the chaos by driving the peloton forward into the final 80km, which travelled along the coastline, featuring undulating terrain, narrow roads with technical turns, street furniture and blustery winds.
Further crashes were inevitable and Boonen went down with 57km to go, apparently damaging both his right shoulder and hip.
The escape was caught with 45km remaining, just before entering Yffiniac, the birthplace of five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault.
The attacks began with more than 30km remaining, with Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Jeremy Roy (FDJ) breaking clear.
The duo established a one-minute gap as HTC-Highroad and Garmin-Cervelo led the chase.
Team Sky, with Juan Antonio Flecha towing Wiggins, and Cadel Evans’ BMC Racing, were also to the fore and Roy was caught before Voeckler’s resistance ended with 1.7km to go.
Martin accelerated and Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen followed.
Gilbert attempted to go clear, but the peloton stayed together and Cavendish came off the wheel of Thomas to surge to a stunning win.