BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, France — Pumping his arms in victory, Peter Sagan of Slovakia won the crash-marred third stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday as cycling’s showcase race returned to its home country.
Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland remained the overall leader for a fourth straight day. The cyclists, following a stretch in Belgium, completed a 122-mile ride from Orchies that featured five small climbs to an uphill finish in the fishing port of Boulogne-sur-Mer.
Sagan won his second stage in his debut Tour by bolting from the splintered pack with less than 300 meters left. He pumped his arms as he crossed the line several lengths — and one second — ahead of runner-up Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway and third-place finisher Peter Velits of Slovakia.
Sagan said his gesture — in which he churned his arms as a runner might — was a nod to the title character in the film “Forrest Gump.”
Overall, Cancellara leads with Bradley Wiggins of Britain in second and Sylvain Chavanel of France in third, both seven seconds back. Defending champ Cadel Evans climbed from eighth to seventh place, 17 seconds behind.
With the pack jostling to get up front for the climbs near the finish, there were at least four crashes, including one within the last mile. Several riders also had mechanical troubles or flat tires.
“The group was nervous. Everyone wanted to be up front; there were a lot of crashes,” Sagan told France-2 television. “It was a very dangerous stage.”
On the trek toward the English Channel, five breakaway riders got out early through northern France’s wheat fields and former steel industry hubs, and through medieval villages like Isbergues — named for a sister of Charlemagne who, legend has it, could cure skin and eye illnesses.
With about 30 miles to go, several riders crashed in a flat portion of road through a wheat field in a slight turn.
Team Sky’s Kanstantsin Sivtsov, of Belarus, didn’t immediately get up and became the first competitor to drop out of this year’s 99th edition of the race.
Some 12 miles later, another crash sent riders flying off the shoulder of the road on both sides — and one flew into a wire fence. Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas of Movistar clambered into an ambulance and dropped out, according to organizers.
The spill split the pack into mini bunches, and the front group overtook the breakaway riders.
U.S. sprint specialist Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Sharp went down in the first crash and was delayed in the second. He and several teammates rallied together to rejoin the main pack.
Today’s fourth stage takes riders on another bumpy ride along several hills, a 134-mile leg from Abbeville to Rouen in the heart of Normandy.