By Julien Pretot
Dutchman Lars Boom won an incident-packed fifth stage of the Tour de France on the cobbles of northern France and Belgium on Wednesday as Vincenzo Nibali seized control overall in the wake of Chris Froome crashing out.
After Britain’s defending champion Froome abandoned, Nibali finished third on a rain-hit stage to build a gap of more than two minutes over main rival Alberto Contador.
Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang guided Astana team mate Nibali home, taking second place on the stage and is second on the overall standings, two seconds behind the Italian.
Froome was forced to abandon after his second crash of a miserable rain-sodden day.
The Briton, who fell some 70km from the finish of the 152.5-km ride from Ypres in Belgium, finished the stage in his Team Sky car.
He had already hurt his wrist in another spill on Tuesday and, after talking to one of his support crew and shaking his head, he limped to the team vehicle and climbed in.
As Froome departed, Nibali powered ahead.
With mud splattering his face, the Italian looked light on the cobbled sectors while Contador struggled but at least stayed on the bike to limit the damage.
Among those who crashed on a hectic day were triple Paris-Roubaix champion Fabian Cancellara as well as overall contenders Tejay van Garderen, Alejandro Valverde and Jurgen van den Broeck.
“The riders’ safety must always come first. It’s completely different to have cobbles on a one-day race or on a GC race when it can have a major impact on the outcome,” Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford had told reporters before the start.
Thursday’s sixth stage will take the battered peloton over 194-km from Arras to Reims as the Tour commemorates the centenary of the start of World War One.