The Irishman, on his 28th birthday, was well positioned towards the front of the peloton coming into the final hectic few hundred metres but couldn’t match the finishing kick of Slovakian powerhouse Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
Sagan, in his debut Tour, collected his second win, having won Sunday’s opening road stage, after he showed a clean pair of wheels to Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky Procycling) and fellow countryman Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quickstep).
The result underlines Roche’s strong form and saw him jump up the overall GC to 20th, just 25 seconds behind race leader Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan).
The day proved somewhat of a disaster for Ireland’s other representative in the race, Dan Martin, after he was held up by a large crash in the final 20kms and lost over five minutes.
Martin crossed the line on his own and slipped down the general classification from 25th to 87th and is now five minutes 28 seconds behind.
Indeed, crashes were a feature of yesterday’s 197km stage with several big name contenders, including Bradley Wiggins, coming down in the carnage. Fortunately for him, his spill was in the final three kilometres so he was credited with the same time as stage winner Sagan. Wiggins (Team Sky) finished in 53rd place but remains second overall, seven seconds behind Cancellara.
The dramatic finish was only half the story on a stage which featured six categorised climbs in the final 70km.
With a five-man break up the road, the peloton was splintered by two crashes, with Sky’s Kanstantsin Siutsou becoming the first of 198 starters to abandon following a heavy fall before Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) followed with a broken collarbone.
After the remnants of the escape were swept up, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) launched an audacious late attack on the descent of the penultimate climb.
But the Frenchman ran out of steam on the run-in to the final ascent to Boulogne-sur-Mer and a fast-approaching peloton, with BMC Racing to the fore, caught and overtook him, making way for Sagan. The maillot vert is his target. “I hope I can take the green jersey until Paris, this is what I hope for,” Sagan said.
Today’s fourth stage takes the riders 214.5km from Abbeville to Rouen and is one for the sprinters.