Mark Cavendish moved up to joint second on the all-time Tour de France stage win list with victory on Monday’s third stage by the tightest of margins.
It was Cavendish’s 28th Tour stage victory, and second of this edition in three days, to equal the mark of French hero Bernard Hinault.
Only Belgian legend Eddy Merckx remains ahead of the Manx Missile now with an astonishing 34 stage wins.
But the 31-year-old Briton was a hair’s breadth away from losing out to German Andre Greipel, who had dominated the Manxman last year in winning four stages to Cavendish’s one.
A metre from the line, Greipel looked sure to win, yet somehow Cavendish stretched out his bike to snatch victory.
He had won far more comfortably on Saturday’s opening stage in Normandy, after which he took young daughter Delilah up to the victory podium with him.
This time he took Delilah and her infant brother Frey too.
Until the stunning finish, it had been a most pedestrian of stages, dragged out to six seconds under six hours for the 223.5km trek from Granville to Angers.
Peter Sagan finished fourth on the stage, just behind Frenchman Bryan Coquard, to maintain his grip on the race leader’s yellow jersey.
But Cavendish’s victory was enough to wrest back the sprinters’ green points jersey from Sagan.
The Slovak still leads by eight seconds to Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe overall with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde third at 10sec.
For the first 150km the peloton seemed to be on strike as French rider Armindo Fonseca went on the attack from the off.
The Fortuneo rider eased up to wait for some support but no-one took up the offer and he quickly stretch out to an 11-minute lead over the bunch.
It gave Fonseca the chance to ride through his home Brittany region on his own and in the lead but even when he slowed right down, the peloton did so too.
The sedate rhythm was at least to some people’s taste.
FDJ team manager Marc Madiot was feeling nostalgic as he even managed to stop in his home village of Renaze to have a drink.
“Today we can enjoy the Tour de France like in the old days: we ride slowly, we stop to kiss friends and family. People are happy,” he said.
Finally with 83km left, popular French veteran Thomas Voeckler set off to close the then 5min 30sec gap to Fonseca, which he quickly did, and only then did the hulky cogs of the peloton start churning into gear.
But once the gap had tumbled to 30sec, the peloton, like a predator stalking its prey, kept the leading pair fixed in its sites.
Fonseca and Voeckler’s day in the sun lasted until 8km from the finish when finally, after a resilient battle, they were swamped by a peloton whose average speed had cranked up significantly.
After that it was up to Cavendish to put on another show.
STAGE 3 RESULTS
1. Mark Cavendish (Britain / Dimension Data) 5:59:54″
2. Andre Greipel (Germany / Lotto) ST
3. Bryan Coquard (France / Direct Energie)
4. Peter Sagan (Slovakia / Tinkoff)
5. Edward Theuns (Belgium / Trek)
6. Sondre Enger (Norway / IAM Cycling)
7. Marcel Kittel (Germany / Etixx – Quick-Step)
8. Christophe Laporte (France / Cofidis)
9. Daniel McLay (Britain / Fortuneo)
10. Dylan Groenewegen (Netherlands / LottoNL)
11. Alexander Kristoff (Norway / Katusha)
12. Michael Matthews (Australia / Orica)
13. John Degenkolb (Germany / Giant)
14. Davide Cimolai (Italy / Lampre)
15. Julian Alaphilippe (France / Etixx – Quick-Step)
16. Tony Gallopin (France / Lotto)
17. Lawson Craddock (U.S. / Cannondale)
18. Geoffrey Soupe (France / Cofidis)
19. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy / Astana)
20. Greg Henderson (New Zealand / Lotto)
1. Peter Sagan (Slovakia / Tinkoff) 14:34:36″
2. Julian Alaphilippe (France / Etixx – Quick-Step) +8″
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spain / Movistar) +10″
4. Chris Froome (Britain / Team Sky) +14″
5. Warren Barguil (France / Giant)
6. Nairo Quintana (Colombia / Movistar)
7. Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic / Tinkoff)
8. Tony Gallopin (France / Lotto)
9. Fabio Aru (Italy / Astana)
10. Daniel Martin (Ireland / Etixx – Quick-Step)
11. Pierre Rolland (France / Cannondale)
12. Michael Matthews (Australia / Orica)
13. Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands / Giant)
14. Wilco Kelderman (Netherlands / LottoNL)
15. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium / BMC Racing)
16. Tejay van Garderen (U.S. / BMC Racing)
17. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Belgium / Katusha)
18. Adam Yates (Britain / Orica)
19. Rui Costa (Portugal / Lampre)
20. Simon Gerrans (Australia / Orica)