A solo attack meant it was a long day in front for Guillaume van Keirsbulck, while the peloton sat up and chatted like a Sunday group ride all the way into Vittel, where all hell broke loose.
Guillaume van Keirsbulck broke away at kilometre zero and no one followed the Wanty rider’s attack. The peloton sat up and let him get as much as a 16 minute lead, with the most action being riders talking to other riders and the nearby chateaus. As the sprint point approached, teams got their sprinters ready and the pace increased. Greipel got a solid leadout, but lunged too far out from the line as Demare snuck on the inside for 2nd place. Van Keirsbulck 4km up the road got the major prize. Van Keirsbulck also rode over the top of the Col des Trois Fontaines for the singular mountains jersey point of the day.
The peloton caught Van Keirsbulck into the final 20km of the stage, and that when the sprint teams assembled at the front of the peloton. Katusha placed Alexander Kristoff at the front to try and protect him, while Quickstep’s train for Kittel got caught out in the final few kilometres. At 1.8km to go, there was a crash in the middle third of the peloton into the barriers, taking out Yellow Jersey wearer Geraint Thomas and putting Kittel out of the front 20 or so riders. The reduced bunch, containing sprinters like Cavendish, Sagan, Demare, Kristoff, Bouhanni and Greipel approached the finish with minimal leadout men.
Jurgen Roelandts led the sprint out for Greipel, but Chavanel from the back was the first rider to launch. The riders swung from the left to the right side of the road, with Bouhanni shouldering Greipel and Demare to get into prime position. This, however, started a chain reaction in the group. Peter Sagan, starting up his sprint, lost his balance and elbowed Cavendish trying to cut inside the barriers. This led to Cavendish going shoulder first straight into the barriers, before flipping over. Degenkolb and Swift behind also tumbled over Cavendish’s bike ruling them out of the sprint. Out the front, Demare had avoided all the carnage and took the sprint with ease from Sagan, Kristoff and Greipel.
While France get their first sprint win at the TDF since 2006, Cavendish’s heavy crash will overshadow Demare’s performance of grabbing the right slot in the sprint just before Bouhanni and getting away from the hustle and bustle for position. Tomorrow’s stage brings the first mountaintop finish of the TDF up La Planche des Belles Filles, where Geraint Thomas’s Yellow Jersey could be up for grabs.
Edit: On examination by the jury, Peter Sagan was given a 30 second penalty for his elbow into Mark Cavendish. He was relegated to 115th.