Race favourites Primoz Roglic and Geraint Thomas, as well as ace sprinters Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan were all involved in nasty crashes before Tim Merlier won a drama-filled stage three of the Tour de France on Monday, with one manager making a passionate plea for new safety measures.
Merlier's teammate Mathieu van der Poel kept hold of the overall lead on a brutal day of racing peppered with falls on the rain-slick, narrow winding roads in Brittany with Thomas dislocating a shoulder and 2020 runner-up Roglic losing valuable time and crossing the line with his kit in tatters.
Lotto's Ewan was taken to hospital and the Australian subsequently withdrew from the Tour with a broken clavicle. Sagan had cuts and bruises but was quickly back in the saddle.
Jack Haig of Bahrain Victorious and Robert Gesink of Jumbo also pulled out injured.
Yellow jersey wearer Van der Poel cut a dour figure compared to the tear-filled elation he experienced after winning Sunday's stage two.
"It was a very fast, technical run-in with all the general classification guys racing for their places, it's difficult to say anything now," said Van Der Poel.
"It's a big race, (in the) overall standings guys fighting against sprinters, for sure it's a dangerous sport," said the Dutch Alpecin rider in muted celebrations after he not only retained the yellow jersey but also led out Merlier's sprint train.
- Will mothers let their kids cycle? -
With two mass pile-ups marring stage one and an ensuing hunt for the mystery culprit French police have vowed to catch up with, followed by the thrill and raw emotion of Van der Poel winning one for his illustrious cycling family on stage two, drama was always likely to be coming round the next corner.
And so it proved on the seafront at the Plage de Testel, 2018 champion Thomas losing his concentration and hitting the ground so hard he dislocated a shoulder before making it back to the peloton with the help of three teammates.
Scenes of Thomas shaking his legs when having his shoulder put back in by medics will live long in the memory.
"Hats off to him, he was in pain but managed well," said Ineos sprts director Gabriel Rasch, who revealed Thomas would go for a scan.
Slovenia's Roglic then hit the tarmac hip first with 10km to go and while shaken he also limited his losses with the help of teammates. Although his Tour is not finished, he now has time to make up on Tadej Pogacar and Thomas.
The worst fall came in the home straight with Caleb Ewan hitting Merlier's back wheel at over 80kph and taking Slovak sprint specialist Sagan down with him, the pair sliding for tens of metres on the tarmac.
Ewan's main sprint rival from FDJ, Arnaud Demare, had also fallen on a bend just outside Pontivy and his manager Marc Madiot was furious.
"Kids, families, mothers are watching this, will mothers want their kids to cycle? We have been speaking about this for years, this isn't cycling, what condition is Ewan in," said an impassioned Madiot.
- Ineos' Carapaz into third -
In the chaos of all the crashes, Ineos' Ecuadorian rider Richard Carapaz was the overall title contender ending the day with relatively good news as he climbed to third in the overall standings.
Van der Poel enjoys an eight-second lead over stage one winner Julian Alaphilippe, with Carapaz in third at 31sec along with Wout van Aert of Jumbo.
But Pogacar and Thomas both lost 26sec Monday while a grazed Roglic crossed the line 1min 20sec down, having rallied heroically to save his Tour.
"That wasn't a nice day, some rivals lost time but you don't want to see that," said Pogacar.
Frenchman Alaphilippe had to swerve to avoid Ewan and Sagan in the run-in.
"That was a mentally shattering day, I'm glad it's over," he said.
As for the mystery woman in yellow who caused the first crash on day one with her sign held up in front of the pack, French authorities are still actively looking for her, a high-ranking gendarme told AFP Monday.
"We don't know who she is, if she's German or Franco-German or whatever. But don't worry we'll find her," the gendarme said.
"She isn't at risk of much more than a fine, the ASO (race organisers) are making this move more as a warning to fans on the roadside."
There were massed ranks of fans again Monday, but none of the falls was their fault.