Peter Sagan won a three man drag race to claim his third Tour de France victory at the end of the 210km sixth stage in Metz.
In a crash strewn day which saw several general classification favourites caught napping, Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished ahead of dual stage winner Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Australian Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) in a time of 4 hours 37 minutes.
Sagan's victory moved him up to eighth on the general classification behind Fabian Cancellera (RadioShack-Nissan), with Bradley Wiggins (Sky) seven seconds behind in second. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) stays in third place.
"I'm very happy to have won today. Yesterday I was a little unlucky, today I was lucky," said Sagan, who failed to contend Thursday's (Friday morning AEDT) sprint after he was caught up in a crash around 3km from the line.
"Everything went well. I decided to take Greipel's wheel because I knew that if I did that no one would be able to pass me."A day ahead of the first climbing stage where the first selections in the peloton are expected to be made, some pre-race contenders were left rueing losing time after being caught in a mass pile-up.
David Zabriskie (Garmin-Sharp), Davide Malacarne (Europcar), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Romain Zingle (Cofidis) made the break of the day and rode out to a lead of almost 7 minutes before the fight back began.
Led by Kroon, the break took the majority of the points at the intermediate sprint leaving the green jersey contenders behind them to fight for the rest.
There, Goss finally managed to get the better of sprint rival Mark Cavendish (Sky), in what looked like an omen of the final sprint finish to come.
But as the peloton chased the break, a crash on a straight but tight section of road around 26km from the finish forced several riders to hit the tarmac and onto the grass verges and left even more delayed by the melee.
A split peloton saw a group of around 50 riders, which included most of the overall favourites including defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) and Wiggins but not stage contender Mark Cavendish, forge on.
Behind, it was chaos with dozens of riders held up and most waiting for new bikes and wheels from their support cars.
Others, like Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) and Davide Vigano (Lampre-ISD), were in no rush to resume. After sitting or lying on the road in pain, they were forced to pull out due to their injuries.
Among the big losers were Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Giro d'Italia champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).
All were delayed by the crash and left with a two-minute deficit to the chasing peloton up the road ahead as they closed in on frontrunners led by Zabriskie, who was the last to resist, and caught with 2.5km to go.
Race leader Fabian Cancellara, wearing the yellow jersey since winning the opening prologue last Saturday (Sunday morning AEDT), realised only too late that his RadioShack-Nissan team leader Frank Schleck had been among those delayed by the chaos.
"We found out we had one rider missing and that was Frank, but already it was too late," said Cancellara, who also admitted to a narrow escape.
"Right next to me I had Davide Vigano and I could feel it when he went down next to me. I had to put one leg on the ground and was just happy not to go down at 70km/h."
As the finish line approached the stage looked set to be a fight between the Lotto-Belisol team of Greipel and Goss's Orica-GreenEDGE squad.
Both Greipel and Goss shot to the front after strong lead outs by their team mates but it was an unsupported Sagan who drove past them to prevail in the sprint for the line in Metz.
The race continues Saturday (Saturday night AEDT) with its first mountain stage, a 199km stretch which finishes atop the first-category Planche Des Belles Filles.
Stage 6: 210km Epernay to Metz
1 Peter Sagan (SVK) Liquigas-Cannondale 4hr 37min 00sec
2 Andre Greipel (GER) Lotto Belisol
3 Matthew Goss (AUS) Orica GreenEDGE
4 Kenny Van Hummel (NED) Vacansoleil-DCM
5 Juan Jose Haedo (ARG) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
6 Greg Henderson (NZL) Lotto Belisol
7 Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) Lampre-ISD
8 Luca Paolini (ITA) Katusha
9 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEDGE
10 Brett Lancaster (AUS) Orica GreenEDGE 0:00:04
1 Fabian Cancellara (SWI) RadioShack-Nissan 29hr 22min 36sec
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Sky 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
4 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC 0:00:10
5 Denis Menchov (RUS) Katusha 0:00:13
6 Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC 0:00:17
7 Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
8 Peter Sagan (SVK) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:19
9 Andreas Kloden (GER) RadioShack-Nissan
10 Maxime Monfort (BEL) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:22