Reigning champion Chris Froome emerged unscathed, but for some missing skin, as Marcel Kittel won his 10th Tour de France stage on Sunday.
Crash hurt but Froome loses no time
Froome was caught up in a huge crash around 30km from the finish of the 203.5km second stage that left him with shredded shorts and needing to change bikes twice before latching back onto the peloton 10km later after a tense chase.
But after the finish of the second stage from Dusseldorf to Liege, the three-time winner insisted he was fine.
"No injury. I just lost a bit of skin on my backside," the Briton told ITV. "That's the nature of the race, in slippery conditions and at those speeds you can't avoid it.
"I'm so happy to get to the finish without losing any time to my rivals."
His Sky team-mate and race leader Geraint Thomas also went down in that crash but recovered quickly to get to the finish and retain his hold on the yellow jersey.
"I'm not sure who was first down, myself and Froomey must have been in the top 10-15. Some guys went down in front of us, we had nowhere to go," said Thomas.
"So we hit the deck but just kind of slid. No damage at all, it took off a bit of skin but all good."
Sprinter chase resulted in crash
The crash happened as the sprinters' teams were trying to reel in the four escapees and that incident disrupted the charge, and almost gave the breakaway a chance to go all the way.
But once the sprint happened, it was a chaotic one with no-one's sprint train able to function and set up their leader.
"Our leadout wasn't perfect but other leadouts weren't either," said the burly German, who wept with joy after crossing the line.
"I tried to do my best but all sprinters were on their own today."
Demare, Greipel and Cavendish
Frenchman Arnaud Demare took second place with Andre Greipel of Germany third, and Briton Mark Cavendish fourth.
With king of the mountains points up for grabs just six kilometres into the stage, the attacks were launched from the gun as four riders escaped into the day's breakaway. American Taylor Phinney, in his first Tour, snatched the first mountain point atop the Grafenberg climb to put him in pole position to claim the polkadot jersey.
Frenchmen Thomas Boudat, Laurent Pichon and Yoann Offredo joined Phinney but the quartet never managed to eke out a lead of more than three and a half minutes in miserable, wet conditions. Their lead had stabilised at around two and a half minutes as they left Germany and entered Belgium, where things got even wetter, 145km into the stage.
They were close to being caught with around 30km left when a massive crash in the peloton took down a number of top riders, including Foome, Thomas, Australian Richie Porte and Frenchman Romain Bardet.
A Katusha rider working for Alexander Kristoff was the first to fall, taking down around 15-20 other riders too. Thomas was quickly back up and away but Froome needed to chase hard to get back to the peloton. And to compound matters, he was also forced into a bike change as he was trying to chase back.
Helped by his team-mates, Froome was back with the peloton with 20km to ride but his shorts were shredded.
Phinney took the honours on the second categorised climb to ensure he would wear the polkadot jersey on Monday but the breakaway stared to disintegrate.
Only Phinney and Offredo soldiered on with a 50sec lead over the peloton 10km from the end, but the dry roads favoured the chasers.
The game was finally up just over a kilometre from the finish at which point it was all down to the sprinters.
|1||Marcel Kittel GER||EQS||4h 37:06|
|2||Arnaud Démare FRA||FDJ||+ 00:00|
|3||André Greipel GER||LTS||+ 00:00|
|4||Mark Cavendish GBR||MTN||+ 00:00|
|5||Dylan Groenewegen NED||TJL||+ 00:00|
|6||Sonny Colbrelli ITA||TBM||+ 00:00|
|7||Ben Swift GBR||UAE||+ 00:00|
|8||Nacer Bouhanni FRA||COF||+ 00:00|
|9||Michael Matthews AUS||SUN||+ 00:00|
|10||Peter Sagan SVK||BOH||+ 00:00|