Peter Sagan produced another virtuoso performance to claim his second victory on stage three of the Tour de France.
The Slovakian bolstered his claims for the green jersey after besting his rivals on a steep uphill finish into Boulogne-sur-Mer, comfortably holding off Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky) and Peter Velits (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) on the line.
The stage was an action-packed affair with a quartet of categorised climbs in the finale producing some exciting racing which took its toll on the peloton.
A number of crashes marred the run for home and caused the bunch to split in half on some tougher-than-expected terrain in North France.
A reduced bunch finish allowed overnight leader Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) to maintain his seven-second hold on the yellow jersey over Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky). The Brit was held up behind a late crash but was handed the same time as the rest of the peloton on the day.
The 197-kilometre test from Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer always looked set to be the toughest day of the race thus far and so it proved out on the road.
Five riders headed clear inside the opening five kilometres including, for the third stage running, the polka dot jersey of Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) - the Dane extending his advantage throughout the day.
The escapees built up a buffer of 5:40 with RadioShack-Nissan once again taking up controlling duties on behalf of leader Cancellara.
The first real action of the day came at the intermediate sprint, the battle between the fast men renewed with 10 points up for grabs in Senlecques with 78km to go.
Mark Cavendish (Team Sky) came out on top with a calm performance under pressure, jutting around the Orica-GreenEDGE train to take maximum points ahead of Kenny Van Hummel (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Sagan.
With 52km left to run a fairly innocuous crash saw huge disappointment for Team Sky as Kanstantsin Siutsou went down and became the first abandonment of the Tour.
A second crash shortly after saw the peloton split apart in the aftermath, a number of contenders for the stage win caught out, among them Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) and Cavendish.
With two distinct groups formed the gap between the two extended out as first Liquigas-Cannondale, moving towards the front in bigger numbers, and then RadioShack-Nissan drilled hard on the front.
Andriy Grivko (Astana) was the last man to be caught 6.6km from home, setting the scene for a brave late dig from Sylvain Chavanel. The Omega Pharma-Quickstep rider pushed hard but was caught on the steep final climb as Sagan took the spoils.