With British rival Mark Cavendish downed by a late crash, Germanys Andre Greipel led a final dash among the remaining top Tour de France sprinters to win the fourth stage into Normandy on Wednesday.
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara avoided the trouble and retained the overall lead for a fifth day after the 133-mile trek alongside the English Channel from Abbeville to Rouen.
The top standings didnt change: The Swiss leads second-place Bradley Wiggins, who hopes to be Britains first Tour winner, by seven seconds. Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia was 17 seconds off the pace in seventh.
With less than two miles left, Cavendish went down in a crash, scraping up his rainbow-colored world champion jersey. He got back on his bicycle and rode gingerly to finish the stage. His Team Sky said he was banged up but appeared to have no serious injuries.
With Cavendish out of the picture, Greipel burst out of the depleted group of sprinters and sped to the straightaway finish, a split-second ahead of Italys Alessandro Petacchi and Dutch rider Tom Veelers.
This is what we wanted. Its a good victory, Greipel said after his 14th victory in all competitions this year.
He said he didnt pay much attention to the late crash.
I heard something behind me ... but 60 kilometers per hour, you dont worry about what happened behind, the Lotto-Belisol rider said in an interview with France-2 TV.
Despite the crash, Greipel said his victory was well-deserved.
There were still really fast guys there for the sprint, and I think we just deserve this victory, he said, playing down a question about whether he savored it less because Cavendish was knocked out.
I think its no question about that, Greipel said. I won a stage in the Tour de France.
Dave Brailsford, manager of Team Sky, said Cavendishs injuries were more superficial, just skin. Well see later. After a crash like that, its high emotion.
When you hit the ground that fast, it shakes you up, it builds up adrenaline, he said. Well let the adrenaline ... calm down and see where we are later. Now he is OK. He is having a shower. It should be OK (Thursday).
The group spill also brought down riders like Garmin-Sharps Robbie Hunter and Cavendishs lead-out man on Sky, Bernhard Eisel of Austria and Brailsford hinted at his riders mood afterward.
I cant repeat what he said when they came into the bus, he told French television.
Cavendish, who was voted the BBCs sports personality of the year in Britain last year, won Mondays second stage in a sprint, giving him a career 21st Tour stage victory.
An official race medical report said Cavendish suffered several scratches and a cut on a finger. Eisel suffered a gash that required stitches on his forehead. Hunter scraped up his left side. Daniel Oss of Liquigas had a hip injury, it said.
Tyler Farrar, a sprint specialist on the Garmin-Sharp team, flew off his bike, somersaulted over his bars, tucked and rolled and ended up on his feet running away from the crash, tweeted team chiropractor Matt Rabin.
According to the Tour rulebook, riders who get delayed by a crash in the last three kilometers of the stage are awarded the same time as the stage winner.
The pack clocked the same time as Greipel 5 hours, 18 minutes, 32 seconds though some stragglers nursing wounds from crashes earlier this week, such as world time-trial champion Tony Martin of Germany and Tom Danielson of the United States, straggled in 2:21 behind.
Cancellara, who briefly got stalled by the crash, sighed with relief: Im really happy to get past that, a fall early hurts ... (Wednesday) it was calm and then hectic at the finish.
David Moncoutie and Anthony Delaplace of France and Japans Yukiya Arashiro broke away early and chiseled out a maximum lead of 8:40 at Mile 10, but the pack reeled them in with about six miles left in the stage.
Riders set off from Abbeville a town where 6,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged in a German bombing raid in World War II in May 1940 and rode along the English Channels picturesque, chalky cliffs with views of giant wind-turbine installations.
Thursdays fifth stage promises another bunch sprint after a mostly flat 122-mile course from Rouen to Saint-Quentin north of Paris.