Chris Froome made a statement of intent on Monday by taking over the race leader’s yellow jersey at the end of a crash-marred third stage of the Tour de France.
The 30-year-old Briton finished second on the 159.5km run from Antwerp to the infamous Mur (wall) de Huy behind Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez.
But his high finish coupled with six bonus seconds on the line was enough to give Team Sky leader Froome the yellow jersey by one second from German Tony Martin.
It was agonising for Martin once again as he has now spent three days within touching distance of the jersey without being able to snatch it.
Yet the main news of the day was the spectacular crash that saw four riders abandon as around 20 hit the deck.
Among them was the yellow jersey wearer Fabian Cancellara who, although able to continue, was visibly hurt and lost several minutes by the end.
Australia’s Simon Gerrans, Frenchman William Bonnet, who caused the crash, Dutchman Tom Dumoulin and Dmitry Kozontchuk of Russia were the four forced out of the race after the crash 100km into the stage.
It caused the stage to be first neutralised and then stopped for around 10 minutes as several riders received treatment.
But once it restarted, with 52km left to ride, the race was on.
Accelerations first from 2013 champion Froome’s Sky team and then that of his overall rival Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo decimated the pack.
By the time they got to the Mur de Huy gaps started to appear.
Rodriguez, a former winner of the Fleche Wallonne one-day classic that also finishes on the Mur, accelerated away to victory but behind him, Froome proved the strongest of the rest to finish second with Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz a surprise third.
Froome put 11sec into overall rivals Vincenzo Nibali, the defending champion, in seventh and Nairo Quintana, who finished 10th.
Contador lost 18sec to Froome and now sits eighth overall at 36sec.
American Tejay Van Garderen had another good day and came home sixth in the same time as Nibali and Quintana to now sit third overall at 13sec.
Nibali is 1min 39sec behind Froome with Quintana at almost two minutes.
For the second day running Czech Jan Barta, who won the day’s combativity award, got in the breakaway and was joined by Swiss Martin Elmiger, Belgian Serge Pauwels and France’s Bryan Nauleau.
They quickly built up a lead of 3min 30sec but had been almost caught just before the crash happened inside the final 60km.
The teams of the four main overall contenders each took turns to apply pressure and the peloton had been shredded by the time it reached the final climb to the finish.
One of those casualties was French hope Thibaut Pinot who was dropped on the penultimate Cote de Cherave climb with 6km left.
He had given up more than a minute by the finish.
Clearly injured, Cancellara was grimly holding on at the back but he finally lost touch with 20km left and once he arrived at the finish, he went straight to hospital.
Tuesday’s fourth stage promises more perils as the riders will tackle more than 13km of cobblestones on the longest stage of the race, 221.5km from Seraing to Cambrai.
Result of the third stage of the Tour de France, a 159.5km ride from Antwerp to Mur de Huy on Monday:
1. Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 3h26min 54sec
2. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) same time.
3. Alexis Vuillermoz (FRA/ALM) at 4sec
4. Daniel Martin (IRL/CAN) 5
5. Tony Gallopin (FRA/LOT) 8
6. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 11
7. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/AST) 11
8. Simon Yates (GBR/ORI) 11
9. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 11
10. Bauke Mollema (NED/TRE) 11
11. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 11
12. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 18
13. Julian Arredondo (COL/TRE) 19
14. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 22
15. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC) 22
16. Jean Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 24
17. Warren Barguil (FRA/GIA) 24
18. Julien Simon (FRA/COF) 28
19. Rigoberto Uran (COL/ETI) 34
20. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EUC) 36
21. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 36
22. Louis Meintjies (RSA/MTN) 36
23. Bryan Naulleau (FRA/EUC) 36
24. Ryder Hesjedal (CAN/CAN) 40
25. Andrew Talansky (USA/CAN) 40
26. Tony Martin (GER/ETI) 40
27. Peter Sagan (SVK/TIN) 40
28. Eduardo Sepulveda (ARG/BSE) 45
29. Daniel Navarro (ESP/COF) 45
30. Merhawi Kudus (ERI/MTN) 45
31. Zdenek Stybar (CZE/ETI) 52
32. Adam Yates (GBR/ORI) 1:00
33. Giampaolo Caruso (ITA/KAT) 1:05
34. Jan Bakelants (BEL/ALM) 1:08
35. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC) 1:10
36. Geraint Thomas (WAL/SKY) 1:10
– Agence France-Presse