Team Sky took their first ever leader's jersey in the Tour yesterday as Welshman Geraint Thomas gutsy performance over the boneshaking cobbled back lanes of northern France saw him claim top spot in the Best Young Rider's competition and second place overall.
Second in a six-rider sprint behind Norwegian Thor Hushovd, British national champion Thomas's success came after getting on the right side of the splits when the race shattered in a welter of crashes on the fourth of seven cobbled sectors.
“There was a big crash, and I was doubting whether to stay up there or drop back to help Bradley [Wiggins],” Thomas admitted after donning the white jersey that singles out the Best Young Rider.
“But [Sky sports director] Sean Yates told me to keep going and go for it in the sprint.”
A former winner of the junior version Paris-Roubaix Classic — the only bike race that annually tackles the sort of cobbled lanes so decisive in yesterday's stage — Thomas said his previous experience had helped him in the Tour's first venture in six years onto the pavé.
“But only up to a point I was playing with the big boys. It was a real buzz being up there.
“It's good for the team, too, it was a bit brutal yesterday [Monday] with all those crashes, and this jersey will give us all a boost to our morale.”
Hushovd's victory has given him a big advantage in the green jersey competition.
Whilst British fastman Mark Cavendish has so far failed to pick up points, Hushovd now has a total of 63.
The two overall contenders who emerged best-placed from the huge dust clouds cast up by the Tour's break-neck dash across the cobbles were former MTBer Cadel Evans and young Luxembourg challenger Andy Schleck.
Two of the three key favourites — the other was Wiggins — who neither crashed or punctured, Evans and Schleck rolled across the line in third and fifth place, 53 seconds ahead of the next chase group.
Schleck's team-mate Fabian Cancellara, who came in just behind, bounced back into the yellow jersey, but on a day of mixed fortunes for their Saxo Bank squad, Andy's brother Frank was one of the first favourites to crash out, breaking his collarbone.
For Schleck, the loss of his sibling will be felt the worst in the mountains, where the two combined forces last year to make repeated attacks on Alberto Contador.
Bradley Wiggins completed a successful day for Sky with eighth place on the stage, his best result since the Tour began in Rotterdam on Saturday. The Briton has gained time on all his opponents barring Schleck and Evans and is now 14th overall.
On a day when he was expected to be at his most vulnerable, overwhelming favourite Contador completed the stage in far better shape than expected.
The Spaniard has never raced over northern France's cobbles before but despite crashing and riding the last 30 kilometres with his brake jammed against his back wheel he finished just one minute 13 down.
Unable to respond to a late acceleration by team-mate Alexandre Vinokourov because of his mechanical problems, he said: “My only problem was that if I changed bikes I'd have lost more time, so I had to keep going. Still, it could have been worse.”