Contender’s theory about Le Tour carnage
DYLAN Groenewegen's sudden burst of form has continued as the Dutchman emerged the strongest from a messy sprint to end Stage 8.
Another quiet day, this time a 181km journey from Dreux to Amiens, made headlines in the final 20km.
Title contender Dan Martin was the big loser, crashing hard with 17km remaining and losing 1min16sec. Scans later cleared him of any breaks, but he limped across the line with his bloodied jersey in tatters and his cries of pain could be heard outside his team bus.
Ahead of Martin, Peter Sagan hit out for the finish line first, but Andre Greipel's attempt to follow the Slovak's wheel saw him shut the door on Fernando Gaviria, who responded by trying to headbutt his way past along the barriers.
Both were later relegated to last place in the main bunch. Groenewegen had a front row view of the tussle before launching off the wheel of Greipel and snatching his second stage win in as many days. Greg Van Avermaet remains in the yellow jersey.
"The legs are better every day," Groenewegen said.
"Today it was a fast final with a lot of corners, but the team did an amazing job and my position was good and I saw Gaviria and Greipel were fighting for position.
"I saw the finish and thought 'this is the moment.' It was a hectic final, but that's every day in the Tour.
"The first days were not what I expected, but the last two days were very good with the two wins, so I like that."
As if to highlight the rollercoaster nature of the Tour de France, Martin's ugly crash comes just two days after his euphoric win in Stage 6 atop the Mur de Bretagne.
And where this time last year the Irishman struggled to step up into the team bus after being caught in Richie Porte's infamous crash, this time his screams could be heard from inside.
"I was in the shower. It hurts," Martin said.
He was diagnosed with "lumbar trauma" and "superficial wounds and grazes on the lumbar zone".
"The back is a bit of a mess. I think you always know it's bad when they take off the bandages to do the scan and they go 'whoa'. When a doctor says that it's kind of like 'Oh, OK'," Martin said.
"There was a bit of a brake in front of me and someone just turned right and took my front wheel away and I couldn't do anything. Who knows what's causing the crashes. People say 'Oh it's the Tour', but it's a bit strange there's not crashes like this is in any other race.
"This race ... it just seems incredibly nervous this year. There's so many people on the side of the road and they're standing in the road and the guys are millimetres away from them."
Martin's Aussie teammate Rory Sutherland said too many riders were taking silly risks.
"Like every day, there were too many people trying to go through a small spot. Every single team is at the front, everyone's pushing, pushing," Sutherland said.
"When I got to him ... the bike's all broken and you have to wait for the bike to come, then you have to rustle him to get back on the bike. The whole team stopped and chased back as hard as we could."
Martin now faces the worst possible scenario - waking up to 21.7km of arduous cobbles on the way to Roubaix in the most feared stage of the race.
"I haven't got anything broken, but I'm going to have to try and ride tomorrow now and get over those cobblestones and obviously it's going to be sore," Martin said.
"It was wrong place, wrong time."
Richie Porte finished safely in the main group and immediately turned his attention to the decisive Stage 9.
"I'm not sure that us GC guys are fully prepared for what faces us tomorrow," Porte said.
"Greg (Van Avermaet) has every right to have ambitions. I think that the rest of the guys will be around me. We have a super strong team and it's going to be a fight to get into those cobbled sections, so bring it on."