Treacherous conditions saw last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s general classification contenders Lance Armstrong, Bradley Wiggins, Frank and Andy Schleck and reigning champion Alberto Contador hit the deck around 30k from the finish.
The Schleck brothers in particular briefly appeared to have fallen disastrously behind as they trailed the group containing Armstrong, Contador and Wiggins by around a minute.
But as things calmed down, the tree splintered groups merged, allowing Quick StepÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Sylvain Chavanel to increase his break-away lead to 3:56, securing the yellow jersey in the process.
Wiggins had tests on his leg at the conclusion of the stage while Andy Schleck in particular seemed to come off particularly badly from his fall.
But Wiggins, who equalled the best finish by a British rider when he reached Paris in fourth place last summer, was in typically bullish mood ahead of the fourth dayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s riding.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We knew it was going to be like this and we’re still standing,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the three time Olympic champion.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“No-one said it was going to be easy. Everyone’s known it was going to be like this all year, so no-one can complain.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Seven time winner Lance Armstrong admitted feeling a bit battered following the days riding, but took heart from the number of his rivals who also suffered.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I predicted carnage for tomorrow, not for today,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the 38-year-old who is riding his final tour.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was pretty even, in the sense that almost everybody crashed. Everybody will be a little banged up and hurting tomorrow.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“After yesterday and today, I think the vast majority of the peloton has been on the ground at least once.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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