Tim Merlier wins Tour de France Stage 3 as top contenders tumble

Associated Press

Pontivy, France — Tim Merlier of Belgium powered to victory in the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday when several top contenders hit the ground during another crash-marred day.

Merlier won ahead of his Alpecin-Fenix teammate Jasper Philipsen and Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni. There was a crash in the closing stages when ace sprinter Caleb Ewan’s front wheel slid from under him in the final turn. He brought down Peter Sagan with him. Ewan, who won two stages last year, broke his right collarbone and abandoned the three-week race.

Slovakia's Peter Sagan, center, crashes with Australia's Caleb Ewan, rear right, during the sprint toward the finish line of the third stage of the Tour de France on Monday in Pontivy, France.

Mathieu van der Poel rode safely at the front throughout the day and escaped unscathed to keep the yellow jersey he earned on Sunday.

The narrow roads in the stage finale took a toll on many competitors who crashed as the peloton rode at full speed. Last year’s runner-up, Primoz Roglic, went down about nine kilometers from the end in the town of Pontivy.

Roglic immediately got back on his bike but lost ground to his main rivals as his Jumbo-Visma teammates tried to pace him back to the peloton. Roglic lost 1 minute, 21 seconds and dropped to 20th overall, 1:35 off the pace.

Defending champion Tadej Pogacar was slowed a few kilometers further down the road following another high-speed pileup but it was unclear whether he crashed.

Saturday’s opening stage was marred with two big pileups, including one caused by a spectator. Veteran sports director Marc Madiot from the Groupama FDJ team was furious about the lack of safety on the road.

“Tonight, I don’t want to see my son become a professional rider,” Madiot said. “My wife does not want to see my son on a bike. It’s been years that we are talking about (safety), we need to find solutions. It’s not bike racing anymore. One day there will be dead people.”

Pogacar crossed 26 seconds behind in a group also including former Tour champion Geraint Thomas, who tumbled early in the stage but managed to keep on racing and was paced back to the peloton.

The Ineos-Grenadiers leader fell off his bike and hit the ground hard with about 145 kilometers left. The 2018 champion sat on the road for a while clutching his right shoulder and grimacing in pain as he was tended to by the race doctor.

It looked like he would retire but ultimately went back on his bike after his dislocated shoulder was fixed.

Robert Gesink, a teammate of last-year’s runner-up Primoz Roglic, fell with Thomas and was forced to abandon.

With his racing kit lacerated, Thomas struggled at the back. Teammate Luke Rowe waited for him and the Welsh pair lagged 21/2 minutes behind the main pack. With the help of more teammates they eventually caught the peloton after Thomas changed his bike.

Van der Poel has an eight-second overall lead over world champion Julian Alaphilippe. Thomas’ teammate, Richard Carapaz, was in third place, 31 seconds back.

Thomas sat 18th in the general classification, 1:07 behind Van der Poel.

The race started in the rain in Lorient and a group of five riders surged ahead immediately.

Behind, the peloton rode at a pedestrian pace and riders were accompanied by scattered showers making the roads slippery and dangerous. The peloton set up a faster tempo in the last hour of racing as sprinters’ teams organized the chase behind the breakaway riders, who were all reined in.

The crash-prone Thomas has showed in the past he can soldier on in pain.

When riding the Tour in support of Chris Froome in 2013, he fell off his bike on a Corsican road in the opening stage and broke his pelvis. Against all odds, Thomas kept on racing on for 3,000 kilometers to the finish line in Paris, where he celebrated the first of Froome’s four victories with the rest of their Team Sky teammates.