German Marcel Kittel claimed his third victory on this year’s Tour de France when he pipped Mark Cavendish on the line to take the 12th stage on Thursday.
Kittel, who won the first and 10th stages, stayed behind the Briton’s wheel in the final straight and went past Cavendish at the very last moment. Slovakia’s Peter Sagan took third place at the end of a 218-km flat dash from Fougeres.
Britain’s Chris Froome avoided a late pile-up in the bunch and retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey.
Dozens of riders were involved in the crash but as it occurred inside the last three kilometres all were credited with the winner’s time.
Froome’s team mate Edvald Boasson Hagen was one of those who crashed and was holding his shoulder when he crossed the line.
“He is being examined by the doctor. I don’t think he has a broken collarbone but he’s hurting,” said Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford, adding that a decision on whether the Norwegian would start the 13th stage would likely be made in the morning.
It is the second time this year’s race Kittel has beaten Cavendish in a sprint. Another specialist, German Andre Greipel, did not contest the finale having been held up behind the crash.
Five men formed an early breakaway to open a nine-minute gap but the sprinters’ teams reeled them in with five kilometres left.
Both Kittel’s Argos-Shimano and Cavendish’s Omega Pharma-Quick Step teams took the front to lead their sprinters.
Kittel, with no lead-out man left, took Cavendish’s wheel and perfectly timed his final effort.
“It’s crazy, I’m speechless. My team really worked well today,” he said.
“As we say in Germany, good things come by three. I want to congratulate (team mate) Tom Veelers for his hard work despite what happened to him,” Kittel added.
On Tuesday, Dutchman Veelers crashed in the finale after bumping shoulders with Cavendish, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the race commissaires.
Friday’s 13th stage takes the peloton over 173 km from Tours to Saint Amand Montrond.