AMIENS, France — Andre Greipel won a rain-drenched fifth stage of the Tour de France in a sprint finish on Wednesday, while fellow German Tony Martin kept the yellow jersey and the main Tour contenders stayed safe as others tumbled around them.
Greipel attacked some 100 metres from the line and held on to beat Slovakian Peter Sagan. British sprinter Mark Cavendish finished third.
"It was quite an impressive sprint, because none of the sprinters had their lead-out man," said the 32-year-old Greipel, who timed his move brilliantly down the left. "I somehow managed to find space. I knew the right side was blocked."
The mostly flat stage took the riders over 189.5 kilometres (117.5 miles) from Arras to Amiens in northern France, passing some of the battlefields of World War One.
Riders hoping for a stress-free stage after three days of intense racing were to be disappointed as the rain, which largely stayed away the day before, thundered down and turned the slippery roads of northern France into something of an ice rink.
"It was also very crazy today with rain, wind and a lot of crashes and I'm happy with how we finished," said Sagan, who spent most of his day making sure teammate Alberto Contador stayed safe.
Greipel clinched his second stage win of the race so far — and eighth of his Tour career — punching the air in delight before even crossing the line. It was the third win overall in five stages for German riders after Tony Martin's success in Tuesday's fourth stage.
German public broadcaster ARD restarted its live coverage of the race this year following a 3-year hiatus due to the doping scandals in recent years, which included Lance Armstrong being stripped of his seven Tour titles (1999-2005).
"I'm happy that we can bring the Tour de France back to Germany," said Greipel, adding that it's because of "mother nature" that German riders seem so strong in sprints.
"I have to thank my mother as I have some fast-twitching muscles," he said.
The day's seventh and biggest crash happened at the back of the peloton with 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) to go.
While not as brutal as Monday's huge crash, it was spectacular and took down about 30 riders. Three went off the road to the right, tumbling into crash barriers. Behind them, others fell in a domino effect. Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, third on last year's Tour, had his second crash of the day.
Thankfully, because speeds were not high, most riders were more groggy than hurt as they looked to see where exactly their bike was amid a myriad of spinning pedals and jutting-out handlebars.
Martin, a three-time world time trial champion, ended the day with a lead of 12 seconds over 2013 Tour champion Chris Froome and 25 seconds over American rider Tejay Van Garderen.
"I'm realistic to know that when the big mountains come I won't be able to stay with the main riders," Martin said.
Among the main contenders, Froome leads two-time Tour champion Contador by 36 seconds; defending champion Vincenzo Nibali by 1:38 and Colombian rider Nairo Quintana, the 2013 runner-up, by 1:56.
The day's first crash took down several Cofidis riders, including Nacer Bouhanni. Team manager Yvon Sanquer said Bouhanni injured his hips, ribs and a wrist but did not break any bones.
With only 80 kilometres (50 miles) raced, there was a fifth crash — with Bryan Coquard falling for a second time. American Tyler Farrar, Pinot and Portuguese rider Tiago Machado also fell.
Wednesday was also a day for remembrance for those who fell in World War One.
Before the stage through the farming regions of Artois and the Somme, Froome and Sky teammate Peter Kennaugh laid a wreath on the Commonwealth Memorial at the Franco-British cemetery in Arras. Australian riders from the Orica-Greenedge team joined the tribute, wearing black armbands.
The Battle of the Somme was one of the most ferocious of the two World Wars. There were 60,000 Allied casualties on the first day, mown down by incessant machine-gun fire from the German lines. Hundreds of thousands on each side were killed and wounded from July to November 1916.
Riders also passed the Necropole Nationale de Rancourt, France's biggest World War I cemetery, and the South African national memorial of Bois Delville — a wooded area their soldiers defended from intense German attacks over several days of fighting in 1916.
Stage 6 is another mostly flat stage for sprinters, taking the pack over 191.5 kilometres (119 miles) from Abbeville to Le Havre, France's biggest commercial port.
Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press