The 201-kilometre stage from the Belgian capital through spring classics country encountered wet weather, which made the descents of the 97th Tour’s first six climbs treacherous – even forcing Lance Armstrong to contemplate why he was still riding two months prior to his 39th birthday.
The day belonged to QuickStep’s Sylvain Chavanel, who scored a solo victory to ensure he will be in the race leader’s yellow jersey when the Tour reaches his native France today.
Chavanel was part of an eight-man break before forging forward alone to score victory by almost four minutes.
Race favourite and two-time winner Alberto Contador, 2009 runner-up Andy Schleck, seven-time winner Armstrong, world champion Cadel Evans and general classification hopefuls Christian Vande Velde and Bradley Wiggins were among those to crash.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche lies 34th overall after yesterday’s stage, the AG2R La Mondiale rider lying 3mins 46secs behind Chavenel.
Team Garmin-Transitions leader Vande Velde was taken to hospital along with the squad’s sprinter, Tyler Farrar, who had hoped to challenge for the points classification’s green jersey.
Chavanel was overjoyed, despite the events which unfolded behind him.
He said: “I didn’t know what was going on behind me, although I did hear there had been a crash.
“But whether the stage ended up being neutralised or not, it doesn’t take away from my win.”
It was Chavanel’s second career Tour stage win and will see him wear the maillot jaune for today’s 213km stage from Wanze to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, featuring four cobbled sections from the Paris-Roubaix classic.
Armstrong last week predicted today would bring “carnage”.
Asked how he felt following the tumultuous events of yesterday, Armstrong responded: “All of 39 today. It’s moments like that I wonder why I came off the beach, but I’ll be back at it tomorrow.”
Armstrong is competing in his final Tour and chasing an eighth victory, with his most recent coming before his first retirement in 2005. The American Team RadioShack leader lies fifth overall after Chavanel’s surge up the rankings and believes more trouble could await the peloton on the 13.2km of pave they face today.
“I predicted carnage for tomorrow, not for today,” added Armstrong.
Perhaps the biggest loser yesterday was Andy Schleck, who appeared to suffer two major falls.
However, his Team Saxo Bank colleagues – with Fabian Cancellara in the yellow jersey following his prologue success on Saturday – were able to control the pursuit of Chavanel, slowing sufficiently to allow Schleck brothers Andy and Frank to come back to the pack.
After the carnage, it was agreed that no points classification sprint awards would be made at the finish to avoid further incident – something which will aid Mark Cavendish’s push for the green jersey after the HTC-Columbia sprinter finished almost 10 minutes adrift yesterday.
Thor Hushovd, who beat Cavendish to the green jersey in 2009 by 10 points, was annoyed by the soft-pedalling protest which denied him the opportunity to open up further ground on the Briton.
“I feel like they have taken something away from us today,” said Hushovd.
“I lost an important opportunity to try to win the stage and gain points.”