Sprint ace Peter Sagan in great finish on another day of crashes at Tour de France
SENSATIONAL sprint ace Peter Sagan won his third stage in six attempts at the Tour de France on another day of racing marred by crashes.
Points classification leader Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) triumphed on the 207.5-kilometre route from Epernay to Metz, which was apparently a straightforward sprint stage, but once again there were spills aplenty, shaking up the general classification.
Three minor incidents delayed stage four and five winner Andre Greipel and a third 26km from home splintering the peloton, leaving Mark Cavendish among those cast adrift.
The incident meant the 27-year-old Team Sky rider's wait to draw level with Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade in fourth place in the all-time rankings of stage winners with 22 victories went on.
With a host of riders scattered across the road and in the verge, Cadel Evans' BMC Racing and Team Sky, led by Bradley Wiggins, avoided the carnage unfolding behind them and went in search of the day's four-man breakaway.
After catching the escapees with 1.3km to go, Orica-GreenEdge and Lotto-Belisol were prominent in the finale.
Greipel - seeking to become the 12th rider to win three straight Tour stages - attempted to break clear, but Sagan once again demonstrated his supreme talent to triumph.
Greipel was second, with Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) third, while Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) retained the race leader's yellow jersey by seven seconds from Wiggins.
Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), third in the Tour in 2011, were among those delayed by the large crash.
At the end of a crash-strewn first week, there was an early collision today, with Greipel, the winner of the last two stages, involved in an incident after 35km.
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were also involved, but none of the riders sustained serious injuries.
Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) led the day's four-man escape, which began after 5km, at the intermediate sprint.
Kroon was the only rider to contest the sprint at 72km to the finish of the day's route, with Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Romain Zingle (Cofidis) and David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp) content to roll over the line.
The peloton followed fewer than three minutes later, with Goss beating Cavendish to the line.
Sagan, wearing the green jersey, was the third rider to cross from the peloton.
Greipel was caught in another collision on the ascent of the day's only categorised climb, the category four Cote du Buxieres, the summit of which came 62.5km from the finish.
The German was temporarily delayed, but a tough chase accompanied by two team-mates saw him rejoin the peloton.
Further drama was to come when the peloton was split into two by a major collision around 26km from the end, with riders and bikes scattered across the road and in ditches running parallel to the tarmac.
As those involved assessed the condition of their bodies and bikes, the survivors of the split forged on in pursuit of the breakaway.
Cavendish was among those held up, effectively seeing his chances of taking a 22nd Tour stage win ended for another day.
Greipel and five of his Lotto-Belisol team-mates made it through and led the pursuit of the breakaway, catching three of the escapees with 2.4km remaining and Zabriskie 900 metres later.
Greipel's Lotto-Belisol team took over, but Sagan pounced and powered to a third success on his maiden Tour following wins on stages one and three.
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