Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong was one of the big losers on the Tour de France on Tuesday as the cobblestones of the feared third stage exacted a heavy toll on the peloton.
Norwegian Thor Hushovd took the stage honours, and with that the race's green jersey, after an epic day of racing from Wanze in Belgium to Arenberg, during which seven sectors of cobblestones caused huge problems.
Overnight leader Sylvain Chavanel of Quick Step lost the race leader's jersey to the man who gave him it on Monday, Fabian Cancellara.
However there was less welcome news for Cancellara's Saxo Bank team as Frank Schleck, who is supposed to play a leading support role in the mountains for younger brother Andy in the race for the yellow jersey, crashed out injured.
Schleck crashed on the fourth cobblestone sector 28km from the finish just as an acceleration from Paris-Roubaix champion Cancellara forced a split on the peloton, leaving Armstrong, Contador and many others behind.
Lance Armstrong in the dust after his flat
Armstrong then punctured, and had to dig deep to limit the damage before finally finishing 32nd at 2min 08sec behind a six-man front group which also contained Australian Cadel Evans, Andy Schleck and Britain's Geraint Thomas.
Spain's reigning champion Alberto Contador, at only 62kg not suited at all to the cobblestones, was expected to be one of the biggest losers of the day. However the Spaniard showed his class and determination, and rode a good deal of luck, to finish only 1:13 behind the leaders, taking 55sec off Armstrong in the process.
In the overall classification Cancellara, who is not a long-time favourite for the yellow jersey, leads Team Sky's Thomas by 23sec, with two-time runner-up Evans in third at 39.
Chavanel dropped to fifth place at 1:01, with Andy Schleck only a few seconds behind at 1:09.
Contador is now only 1:40 off the pace in ninth overall, with Armstrong dropping to 18th at 2:30.
Cancellara back in yellow
Armstrong said he was "very frustrated" but said the race was far from over.
"We lost significant time, so we just have to keep our head up and take our chances on the climbs," said the American. "Sometimes you're the hammer and some days you're the nail. Today I was the nail."
Evans meanwhile was not making too much of being one of the biggest winners, despite taking 20secs off Contador.
"Just to get through it as a GC (general classification) rider, without losing any time, obviously I'm delighted but it's easier said than done because I think very few GC guys got through," said Evans.
"I didn't lose any time to the favourites and maybe made some time to others, but 20secs to Contador isn't going to (make a big difference) although I did lose the Tour by 23."
Frank Schleck crashed out of the Tour
Andy Schleck, who finished runner-up to Contador last year, also emerged a winner but that feat was tempered by the loss of his older brother.
"It was a good day for me, but the The Tour is finished for him," said Schleck. "But it's not the most important thing. I'm happy it's just his collarbone that has been broken."
Hushovd had a superb day in the saddle, the Cervelo man making amends for losing out on his chance to sprint for green jersey points on Monday when Cancellara called a truce at the end of the crash-marred second stage.
"I'm very happy. Yesterday I missed out on going for the points, and a lot of guys came to me today to say they understood why I was upset at that decision," said the Norwegian.
"I've won the green jersey twice, and this morning I said to myself I was going to war in a bid to get it back. I will do everything to keep it."
© AFP 2010
For full results, report and photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.