(AP) German rider Marcel Kittel won the first stage of the 100th Tour de France in a sprint finish with Alexander Kristoff on Saturday.
Former champion Alberto Contador was involved in a crash near to the end of the flat, 132-mile stage. Sprinter Peter Sagan was also among those hitting the ground. They were able to continue, with Contador's shoulder cut and bruised.
"I saw the crash happen to my right," Kittel said. "I knew it was serious. I knew that Mark and Andre (Greipel) were no longer in contention and it was a good chance for us."
British sprinter Mark Cavendish did not crash but was stuck behind those that fell and was not among the stage challengers at the end.
Cavendish was aiming for his 24th stage win and hoping to wear the prestigious yellow jersey for the first time in his career, while Sagan was expected to be his main rival.
Neither got close.
Cavendish and Sagan were nowhere to be seen as the main bunch turned the corner for home, and Kittel held off Kristoff as they dipped for the line.
Organizers considered shortening the stage by two miles because a bus from the Orica Greenedge team was stuck on the finish line. But they managed to move it and the normal finishing spot was reinstated.
"I'm speechless, so, so happy. This is by far the greatest day in my whole life," Kittel said. "It's by far (my) biggest victory. I hope I can sleep, I'm going to be pretty excited about tomorrow."
Returning from a doping ban after testing positive on the 2010 Tour a title he has been stripped off Contador grimaced in pain as he crossed the line with his clothing torn and his left shoulder grazed.
As the stage drew to an end, former champion Andy Schleck's RadioShack team pushed to the front as a side wind made it harder for riders to pedal, then Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff team pushed up, before Sky took charge as the sinewy, tight roads started to look thinner and thinner.
Johnny Hoogerland, who was sent flying off his bike and sustained cuts to his legs on the 2011 Tour after being hit by a Tour car, was sent tumbling after hitting a crash barrier near the end. He was helped back onto his bike and able to continue.
Shortly after, a handful of riders including last year's Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal were caught in another small crash, but all continued.