A dramatic crash on the pavÃ©s at 27km from the stage end saw FrÃ¤nk Schleck, one of the top five GC contenders, crash out of the Tour de France. He lost control on the crown of a left-hand bend, taking Tony Martin out with him, but it was the Luxemburger who didn’t get up off the floor.
The crash left Fabian Cancellara leading Andy Schleck in a small group also including Cadel Evans, Thor Hushovd and Geraint Evans to chase stage leader Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Transitions).
Lance Armstrong was in a second chasing group, though a puncture with 16km to go frustratingly left him in the gutter as Alberto Contador speed past. The puncture also dumped him out of the top 10 in the GC.Â Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), who started the day in yellow, was also unfortunate to puncture twice and saw his hopes of retaining the jersey disappear.
Cancellara, meanwhile, motored on, shepherding Andy through the final pavÃ©s, and the group caught Hesjedal at 5km to go. Then, inevitably, Hushovd, a cobble-lover and the best sprinter of the lot, went past them all to take the stage win. He was, ironically, pulled to the line by Cancellara, the very man he was annoyed with only 24 hours earlier for neutralising the preceding stage. Geraint Thomas was second and Cadel Evans third. Bradley Wiggins came in eighth, 53 seconds back.
Alberto Contador, who could have been one of the day’s losers, coped with the cobbles well, and can’t be too worried at the time gap now separating him from Andy Schleck. Lance, meanwhile, showed incredible determination to claw all the time back he could, coming in 55 seconds after the Spaniard, but he now seems marooned back in the GC. Fabian ‘Spartacus’ Cancellara moves back into yellow, but the real surprise is Geraint Thomas, the British champion, sitting in second just ahead of world champ Cadel Evans in third.
Tomorrow’s short, flat stage, 153.5km from Cambrai to Reims, should be something of a respite for the peloton, and may either see Thor cement his hold on the green jersey or, alternatively, may give Cav a pop at a first victory. Tyler Farrar, who was injured in a crash on the disastrous second stage (reportedly a broken wrist, though it looked more like an elbow problem), seems out of sprint contention for now.
Provisional GC after 3 stages:
1. Fabian Cancellara (SAX)
2. Geraint Thomas (SKY) + 23″
3. Cadel Evans (BMC) + 39″
4. Ryder Hesjedal (GRM) + 46″
5. Sylvain Chavanel (QST) + 1’01”
6. Andy Schleck (SAX) +1’09”
7. Thor Hushovd (CTT) +1’19”
8. Alexandre Vinokourov (AST) +1’31”
9. Alberto Contador (AST) +1’40”
10. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (OLO) +1’42”