It was even worse over at the Rabobank bus, where seven of its nine riders hit the deck. Gesink rolled up to the team bus with both knees and both elbows bleeding and quickly stepped inside without speaking to reporters.
Big crowds just added to the tension. Rabid Bretagne racing fans turned out in masses. One French reporter who drove the entire route said the crowds lining the day’s lone rated climb, at the Cat. 4 Cote de Gurunhuel at 45.5km, looked like the “Tourmalet, they were 10-deep.”
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) was another yellow jersey candidate who dodged a bullet,but he was able to bounce back and finish with the leaders.
“It was mad — the worst stage so far and I’m relieved it’s over now,” Wiggins said. “It was a really, really horrible stage. I didn’t really crash that hard; I sort of crashed behind the crash and just bent my handlebars and brakes and things like that.”
Quick Step also saw both of its team captains crashing, with Sylvain Chavanel going down in a fall at 57km while Tom Boonen and Geert Steegmans, both former Tour stage winners looking to recapture some Tour glory, hit the deck at 108km.
Boonen was left alone without teammates as he lay on the ground in the wake of his crash. Doctors confirmed there were no serious injuries and teammate Addy Engels finally rolled back to make sure he made the time cut. The pair crossed the line last at 13:08 back.
“To avoid the riders ahead of me I braked but my front wheel touched another athlete’s back wheel” Boonen said. “I flew over my bike in an endo and I fell, hitting my head and the right side of my body. My helmet busted on impact.”
In the fall Boonen suffered a series of abrasions to his shoulder, elbow and right gluteus, the team said.
“After the first few minutes of shock I got back on my bike and I wanted to finish the stage” Boonen said. “I have to thank Engels for his support. Alone I would have risked ending up outside of the maximum time. Now all I only want to recover some energy from tomorrow.”
Ivan Velasco (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed hard into the barriers on the right side of the road at 155km and after the finish was transferred to a hospital in Saint-Malo with a likely fractured clavicle. Incredibly, he finished the stage at 12:43 back.
Even for riders who made it to the finish line in one piece, the wear and tear of the nerves, speed and tension caused some damage. Garmin-Cervélo was hoping to set up Tyler Farrar for the win on a rising finish ideally suited for his characteristics, but with seven kilometers to go, Farrar knew he didn’t have the win in his legs and told yellow jersey Thor Hushovd to go for the win.
“It was pretty stressful day with the wind. It ended up being much harder than it looked like it was on paper. It was just chaos. Every team had to ride like crazy all day and hold position to stay out of trouble. When it’s like that, every team was blown up by the end of the race. It was a really stressful day. It was a day when you could never really relax,” Farrar said. “Originally, the idea was to ride for me, but toward the end I was really suffering, so I told Thor, don’t even think about me, because I couldn’t be there in the end. With 7-8km to go, I knew I didn’t have the legs.”
On Thursday the peloton can expect more of the same, with another stage of rolling hills, strong winds and rain.