2014 Tour de France, as the riders left the U.K. behind at last, and hit the road in northern France for the first time this year. It was another day meant for sprinters, but a number of crashes along the way had the peloton running scared, with the GC contenders looking to avoid trouble. And at the end of the day, there was a familiar face standing on the top of the podium.
Today's stage was a 163.5 km (101.5 miles) running from Le Touquest-Paris-Plage to Lille. The route has a few rolling hills, and featured two Category 4 climbs, but for the most part it was expected to be an easy ride following the travel day from the U.K. But throughout the day there were a number of crashes and falls that involved some big name riders, including defending champ Chris Froome, and Green Jersey holder Peter Sagan. Both looked none the worse for wear, but Froome went down particularly hard. He may be feeling the effects of the crash tomorrow.
French rider Thomas Voeckler showed why he is one of the scrappiest riders in the race by taking part in a long break away, and going solo for much of the day. He was eventually caught about 16 km (10 miles) from the finish, but his hard ride showed why he is a fan favorite every year. For is efforts, he was given the title of "most aggressive' rider for the day, something that he'll wear with pride.
As the peloton approached the finish line, the top sprint teams pushed to the front, with Omega Pharma QuickStep and Team Giant Shimano leading the way. Each was trying to get their man to the front in an effort to claim victory, but as the fastest riders in the world dashed for the finish line, it was once again Marcel Kittel taking the win, his third so far this year, with just four stages down. His success so far this year has been impressive, although Kittel will struggle when the real climbs come in the days ahead.
There was no change at all today in standings. Vincenzo Nibali remains in the Yellow Jersey, and Peter Sagan is still in Green. There were few climbing points to be gained, and as a result Cyril Lemoine keeps the Polka Dot Jersey as well. Sagan also retains his White Jersey, given to the best young rider in the race.
Tomorrow, the peloton will face an entirely different challenge, as they ride on to the dangerous cobblestones that mark some of the villages along the 155.5 km (96.6 mile) route between Ypres and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut. Those cobblestones always make the riders a bit nervous, and for good reason. They often cause accidents and injuries that can take someone completely out of the race, so expected a bit more measured pace during those sections. There will be nine total cobblestone roads for the cyclists to navigate, totaling more than 15 km (9.3 miles), but they will be some of the most nerve wracking, difficult miles that they'll face in the early going. Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara are two of the favorites to take the stage. Tune in to see how it all turns out.