Team Sky took their first ever leader's jersey in the Tour de France yesterday as the Welshman Geraint Thomas's gutsy performance over the bone-shaking, cobbled back lanes of northern France gave him top spot in the Best Young Rider's competition and second place overall.
Second in a six-rider sprint behind the Norwegian Thor Hushovd, Thomas gained his success after getting on the right side of the splits when the race shattered on the fourth of seven cobbled sectors.
"There was a big crash, and I was doubting whether to stay up there or drop back to help [team leader] Bradley [Wiggins]," British champion Thomas admitted after donning the white jersey that singles out the Best Young Rider. "But [Sky sports director] Sean Yates told me to stay up there and go for it in the sprint."
Thomas is a former winner of the junior version Paris-Roubaix Classic – the only annual bike race with the sort of cobbled lanes so decisive in yesterday's stage – and his experience helped him tackle the Tour's first venture on to the pavé in six years.
"But only up to a point," he said. "I was playing with the big boys. It was a real buzz being up there. It is good for the team, too. It was a bit brutal yesterday [Monday] with all those crashes, and this will boost our morale."
Hushovd's victory has given him a big advantage in the green jersey competition. While British fastman Mark Cavendish has failed to pick up points, Hushovd now has a total of 63 and will be hard to dislodge.
The two overall contenders who emerged best-placed from the huge dustclouds produced by the Tour's breakneck dash across the cobbles were Cadel Evans and young Luxembourg challenger Andy Schleck.
Two of the three key favourites – the other was Wiggins – who neither crashed nor punctured, Evans and Schleck rolled across the line in third and fifth place.
Schleck's team-mate Fabian Cancellara, who followed just behind, bounced back into the yellow jersey, but on a day of mixed fortunes for their Saxo Bank squad, Andy's brother Frank was one of the first favourites to crash out, breaking his collarbone.
Wiggins completed a largely successful day for Sky with eighth place on the stage, gaining time on all his opponents except Schleck and Evans and is now 14th overall. In fact, losing Australian rider Simon Gerrans to an early crash was the team's only setback and today will bring a decision on whether his facial injuries will prevent him continuing.
The overwhelming favourite Alberto Contador completed the stage in far better shape than expected. The Spaniard had never raced over northern France's cobbles before but finished just 73 seconds down despite crashing and riding the last 30 kilometres with his back brake jammed.