Mark Cavendish's dreams of wearing yellow in the 100th running of the Tour de France ended amid the sort of chaos he feared as several of the favourites were felled by a major crash near the finish of stage one.
Marcel Kittel of Team Argos-Shimano took the stage win in Bastia after the three main favourites on the day - Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel - were caught in a crash around six kilometres from the finish.
That came amid confusion over where the stage would actually end after the Orica GreenEdge team bus became lodged under the banner at the finish line, causing organisers to temporarily move the finish line back 3km before restoring the route once the obstacle was removed with the riders bearing down.
Due to the confusion in the final kilometres all riders were awarded the same time for the stage, but it is the German Kittel who will start tomorrow decked out in yellow after picking his way through the carnage and beating Katusha's Alexander Kristoffof to the line.
Cavendish had voiced fears about the impact of crashes during his pre-Tour media conference on Thursday, although even he could not have foreseen the chaotic finish to today's stage.
Johnny Hoogerland tumbled 15km from the line but that only hinted at what was to come.
Moments later, a bigger incident took down 2012 Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal and Team Sky's Ian Stannard among others.
By this point, and with the peloton rapidly approaching town, organisers were frantically trying to remove the Orica GreenEdge team bus from the finish line after it had become wedged under the banner after apparently taking a wrong turn.
The teams were initially told the finish would be moved three kilometres forward, but once the bus was freed that just as quickly changed and the route was restored.
Barely had that news come through and the whole complexion of the race changed again as Sagan was caught amid a major tumble around six kilometres from the line.
Greipel appeared to suffer a puncture during the incident while Cavendish, though not hurt, saw his chances ended as he was caught in the queue.
The lucky few who were clear of the crash raced on to contest the sprint finish, although Matt Goss also fell 300m short of the line.
Also caught in the chaos was Alberto Contador, considered Chris Froome's main rival to win the Tour, who crossed the line with a ripped jersey though his Saxo-Tinkoff team quickly played down reports of an injury.
Danny van Poppel of Vaconsoleil came home third while British veteran David Millar of Garmin-Sharp was just behind in fourth.
"Yeah, fourth in the bunch sprint, whateves" the 36-year-old wrote on Twitter.
Today's victory will be a particularly sweet moment for Kittel, who was forced to withdraw from last year's Tour on stage five through illness.
Froome had actually been the first man to have a tumble on the day, involved in what Team Sky called a "small crash" during the neutralised section at the start of the stage, forcing a swift change of bike for the Briton.
The stage was marked by an early breakaway involving Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Lars Boom (Belkin), Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Cyril Lemoine (Sojasun) who raced away at the start for their moment in the spotlight.
They would stay clear until 35km from the finish, with Lobato claiming the King of the Mountains jersey by taking the points on the only categorised climb of the day, while Boom crossed the line first on the intermediate sprint.
Once the riders neared Bastia, the problems began in a frantic finish.
Orica GreenEdge communications director Brian Nygaard said on Twitter their bus driver had been following instructions when the incident at the finish line occurred.
"Joking aside, our bus driver is devasted," he wrote.
"He's an awesome guy and (unlike me) a great driver. He was being told to keep moving forward."
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