Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were grateful to emerge with little more than bumps and bruises from a crash as Marcel Kittel won stage two of the Tour de France in Liege.
Froome was one of several general classification hopefuls to fall in soaking wet conditions around 30 kilometres from the finish of the 203.5km stage from Dusseldorf, and Team Sky team-mate Thomas also went down in the yellow jersey.
They would all get back to the peloton before German Kittel of Quick-Step Floors won in a bunch sprint, while Thomas finished safely in the pack to retain the overall lead he took with Saturday’s time trial win.
The crash came on a right turn in Battice as the miserable weather, which caused several crashes on Saturday, followed the race south west into Belgium.
Team Sky’s Froome appeared to be the first to hit the deck but several followed, with the peloton going at full speed.
“No injuries, thankfully,” Froome said. “I just lost a little bit of skin on my backside, but yeah, that’s the nature of the race, we knew there were slippery conditions.
“Every time you put the race numbers on you know there’s a big risk something could happen and today just a touch of wheels or someone just slid a few wheels ahead of me and at those speeds you just can’t avoid it.
“I think a few of us went down but thankfully everyone’s OK and got to the finish all right without losing any time to our rivals.”
Thomas added: “I’m not sure who was the first one down but myself and Froomey must have been in the top ten or 15 and we had nowhere to go so we hit the deck. No real damage, I just lost a bit of skin.”
Thomas quickly got back on his way, but Froome had a more stressful chase back as he had to change bike before eventually rejoining the peloton. Also involved were GC hopefuls Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing).
“It’s nice to get the first crash out of the way and get on with it,” Porte said with a rueful tone. “Hopefully the knee’s OK. I got a little bit of a bang on that.”
Despite the crash, Thomas was able to soak up his first experience of wearing the yellow jersey. “It was certainly a special day to walk off the bus in yellow,” he said. “Just a massive buzz all day. Even though it was raining I didn’t really mind too much. The adrenalin and pride of wearing yellow and representing the race for the day was awesome.”
Wet weather and crosswinds had made for stressful racing, despite the fact the 203.5km run from Dusseldorf was almost entirely flat.
A four-man breakaway was allowed to go clear, and Tour debutant Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) crested the day’s two climbs first to take the first polka dot jersey of the Tour.
After the delay caused by the crash, they were reeled in with barely a kilometre to go as the lead-out trains set up the sprint.
Kittel won ahead of FDJ’s French sprinter Arnaud Demare and Lotto-Soudal’s German Andre Greipel.
Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) was fourth – an encouraging result following his long illness – while Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates) finished seventh on the stage.
Thomas leads by five seconds from BMC’s Stefan Kung, but Kittel has closed to within six seconds after picking up bonus time for his victory – his tenth career Tour stage win.