PONTIVY, France — Tim Merlier of Belgium powered to victory in the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday when several top contenders hit the ground during another crash-marred day.
Merlier won ahead of his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Jasper Philipsen and Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni.
There was a crash in the closing stages when ace sprinter Caleb Ewan’s front wheel slid from under him in the final turn. He brought down Peter Sagan with him.
Mathieu van der Poel rode safely at the front throughout the day and escaped unscathed to keep the yellow jersey he earned on Sunday.
The narrow roads in the stage finale took a toll on many competitors who crashed as the peloton rode at full speed. Last year’s runner-up, Primoz Roglic, went down about nine kilometers from the end in the town of Pontivy.
Roglic immediately got back on his bike but lost ground to his main rivals as his Jumbo-Visma teammates tried to pace him back to the peloton.
Defending champion Tadej Pogacar was slowed a few kilometers further down the road following another crash but it was unclear whether he crashed.
Earlier, former Tour champion Geraint Thomas hit the tarmac but managed to keep on racing and was paced back to the peloton.
The Ineos-Grenadiers leader fell off his bike and hit the ground hard with about 145 kilometers left. The 2018 champion sat on the road for a while clutching his right shoulder and grimacing in pain as he was tended to by the race doctor. It looked like he would retire but ultimately went back on his bike.
Tour organizers said the peloton was riding at 43 kph when the crash took place. Robert Gesink, a teammate of last-year’s runner-up Roglic, also fell and was forced to abandon.
With his racing kit lacerated, Thomas struggled at the back. Teammate Luke Rowe waited for him and the Welsh pair lagged 2 1/2 minutes behind the main pack. With the help of more teammates they eventually caught the peloton after Thomas changed his bike.
Thomas was 20th overall before the start of the stage, 41 seconds behind race leader Van der Poel. He predicted “a stressful day” because of the bad weather conditions.
The race started in the rain in Lorient and a group of five riders surged ahead immediately.
Behind, the peloton rode at a pedestrian pace and riders were accompanied by scattered showers making the roads slippery and dangerous.
The crash-prone Thomas has shown in the past he can soldier on in pain.
When riding the Tour in support of Chris Froome in 2013, he fell off his bike on a Corsican road in the opening stage and broke his pelvis. Against all odds, Thomas kept on racing on for 3,000 kilometers to the finish line in Paris, where he celebrated the first of Froome’s four victories with the rest of their Team Sky teammates.
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