Elia Viviani claimed his first career Tour de France stage win in a sprint finish in Nancy as Deceuninck-Quick Step team-mate Julian Alaphilippe retained the yellow jersey.
The Italian sprinter, frustrated to leave the Giro d’Italia empty-handed in May, took the first pure sprint opportunity of this year’s Tour as he edged out UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff on the line.
It was a second consecutive stage victory for Viviani’s Belgian team after Alaphilippe’s champagne moment in Epernay on Monday powered him into the yellow jersey.
Several sprinters had targeted Saturday’s opening stage in Brussels but an uphill drag to the finish line proved too much for the pure quickmen.
“It means a lot,” said Viviani, who has won five Giro stages and three Vuelta stages, but was missing one from the biggest race of all.
“Probably I can’t believe it still. It was a big goal of the year. We missed the first chance and put the yellow on.
“But I think after Julian’s phenomenal ride yesterday, it’s a moment when you switch on the team. Today we did a perfect job, you saw how the lead-out did.
“I’m pretty happy. I was missing this win. I won in the Giro and the Vuelta and now in the Tour de France, that means a lot to me.”
Lotto-Soudal’s Caleb Ewan had to settle for third while former world champion Peter Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe came fourth. And the bunch finish meant there was no change at the top of the general classification, in which Alaphilippe leads by 20 seconds from Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert.
The rest of the peloton were simply happy to make it through a sketchy final five kilometres unscathed, with the route designers sending them barrelling down a wide dual carriageway before a roundabout funnelled them into a tight left-hander two kilometres from the line.
The 213.5km stage from Reims was raced at relatively sedate pace after the exertions of Monday’s stage finale on the lumps and bumps of Champagne country, where Egan Bernal opened up a five-second gap on Ineos team-mate and defending champion Geraint Thomas.
The significance of that margin was a strong topic of debate on Tuesday.
“It is what it is,” Thomas said. “No-one wins the Tour on five-second sprint finishes but obviously it would be better not to have lost that.
“I was hoping just to slowly drift back a bit and the next thing I know no-one is coming past me and I was like ‘I have to try and close this gap’ but it was a bit late by then.
“Obviously five seconds - it is nice not to lose that. If I am off the podium by four I might be more disappointed.”
But Ineos team principal Sir Dave Brailsford dismissed the gap as irrelevant.
“I think way too much has been made of it, if I am honest,” he said. “If anyone understands the sport, you watch the sport, there is 30-metre gap. ‘G’ sat up a little bit, he thought people were trying to come over him and that is it.
“People are trying to make out that it is a five-second gap and it is not… It makes no difference.”