LIEGE • Team Sky's Chris Froome was caught in a crash before an emotional Marcel Kittel won stage two of the Tour de France in Liege, Belgium, yesterday.
Froome, who is defending his Tour title, was one of several general classification hopefuls to fall in soaking wet conditions around 30km before the finish of the stage from Dusseldorf, Germany.
They all got back to the peloton before German Kittel of Quick-Step Floors won from a bunch sprint, while Geraint Thomas finished safely in the pack to retain the yellow jersey he took with Saturday's time-trial win.
The crash came on a right turn in Battice as the miserable weather which marred Saturday's opening time trial followed the race south into Belgium.
Froome appeared to be the first to hit the deck but several followed with the peloton going at full speed.
Thomas was held up but quickly got going again, while Froome set about chasing back with Richie Porte (BMC) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), who were also caught up. Froome had to stop for a bike change, but eventually got back with the help of Christian Knees and Michal Kwiatkowski after a 10km chase.
Wet weather and crosswinds had made for stressful racing despite the fact the 203.5km run from Dusseldorf was almost entirely flat.
A four-man breakaway was allowed to go clear, and Tour debutant Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) crested the day's two climbs first to take the first polka dot jersey of the Tour.
After the delay caused by the crash, they were reeled in with barely a kilometre to go as the lead-out trains set up the sprint.
Kittel won in 4hr 37min 6sec ahead of FDJ's French sprinter Arnaud Demare and Lotto-Soudal's German Andre Greipel, while Mark Cavendish (Team Dimension Data) was fourth - an encouraging result following his bout of illness.
Ben Swift (UAE Team Emirates) finished seventh on the stage.
"I don't know what to say. I'm super happy that I got this victory today," Kittel, who broke down in tears after winning his 10th Tour de France stage, said.
"It was an incredible start in Germany. So many people. And for me, it would be wrong to say I had no pressure, it all comes out now and I really wanted to have this win.
"It was for me a big goal for me to start in Germany and win at the end of that stage. If we're honest and look to the plan, it didn't work at all.
"The good thing was I came pretty late, I could jump from the wheels. I just thought, OK, I need to take my own way, and I was just jumping from wheel to wheel and in the end I could go to the front, and I am super relieved."
Kittel, who hit 69.19kmh in the sprint finish according to official Tour data, is now up to third overall at 6sec back after taking a 10-second time bonus on the line.
Froome is sixth at 12sec.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
TOUR DE FRANCE
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