German Marcel Kittel broke down in tears after winning his 10th Tour de France stage in Liege on Sunday.
Reigning champion Chris Froome suffered a scare on the 203.5km second stage from Dusseldorf, crashing 30km from the end but he got up to finish safely in the peloton, alongside race leader Geraint Thomas.
Frenchman Arnaud Demare was second and German Andre Greipel third in the bunch sprint, with Briton Mark Cavendish fourth as he challenged for a 31st stage win.
“I dont know what to say… It was an incredible start in Germany with so many people,” said an emotional Kittel.
“Great! I’m super happy, super proud because it was for me a very special win today after we had the Grand Depart in Germany.”
But the main drama happened 30km from the finish as the peloton chased down a four-man breakaway.
A rider from the Katusha team trying to set up Alexander Kristoff for the finish slipped on a wet bend and crashed, taking down around 15-20 riders.
Froome and yellow jersey wearer Thomas were among them, with the champion suffering cuts to his lower back and seeing his shorts shredded.
He got back on his bicycle to chase the peloton but was forced into a bike change before finally latching back onto the pack with 20km left.
Thomas seemed unscathed and maintained his five-second lead over Swiss Stefan Kung, although Kittel, who hit 69.19kph in the sprint finish according to official Tour data, is now up to third overall at 6sec after taking a 10-second time bonus on the line.
“It’s all good, it’s a nice bonus to keep the jersey for another day,” said Thomas.
“We were in a good position when me and Froomey crashed, in the top 10 or 15.
“A few guys went down in front of us and there was nowhere to go.”
Australian contender Richie Porte was another to crash, but he said he escaped the worst of it.
“I’m ok, theres a few guys that went down quite a lot harder. I fortunately landed on top of them,” said the BMC team leader.
Kittel’s stage victory meant he took the sprinter’s green points jersey as well, while American Taylor Phinney, who was in the breakaway, claimed all the king of the mountain points available and will wear the polkadot jersey on Monday.
The third stage on Monday is a lumpy one of more than 210km with a short climb to the finish which will favour punchy riders rather than pure sprinters. – Agence France-Presse