LE HAVRE, France — Czech rider Zdenek Stybar won the sixth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, while defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Italy was caught in yet another crash near the finish caused by race leader Tony Martin.
Martin ended up with a broken collarbone after he lost control of his bike with about 900 meters to go. It swerved to the right, clipped another bike and then brought down some eight other riders, including Nibali and Colombian climbing ace Nairo Quintana.
"I can't even remember what happened. That's the Tour. Good luck and bad luck go together," Martin said.
Unable to hold his handlebar, with his left arm in a sling position, Martin rolled slowly over the line with several teammates alongside him. He said on his Twitter account that his collarbone is broken and "we will discuss further steps" as to whether he continues to race.
Three significant crashes have marred the race so far, and British rider Chris Froome has escaped all of them — although the 2013 Tour champion almost fell when Nibali's bike swerved into his.
With bikes piled up and riders slowing down, Stybar rode ahead unchallenged to clinch victory, while Martin sat up on the side of the road.
Stybar did not seem to be aware of the spill, and when he looked over his shoulder near to the line he seemed surprised to see no one behind him. Slovak Peter Sagan, chasing a fourth straight green jersey as the best sprinter, finished in second place, two seconds behind Stybar.
"I don't get it yet that I have won a stage on the Tour de France," said the 29-year-old Stygar, a former Cyclo-cross rider who is Martin's teammate on the Etixx Quick-Step team.
"It's an amazing feeling, but on the other hand I feel really sorry for Tony," Stygar said. "But it's the Tour de France; it's just crazy, crazy. You don't know what will happen around each corner."
Nibali got back up and finished the stage, as did Quintana, who had blood dripping from his right arm and elbow.
"Teams always want to be near the front, so it's difficult to find a position, but falling like that near the end," Nibali said.
Froome was relieved to come through the melee with just a minor graze to his knee.
"There was some confusion as to who caused the crash, wanted to clear that up ... definitely wasn't me!" Froome tweeted.
Martin kept hold of the yellow jersey because the crash happened inside the last 3 kilometers (2 miles), at which point those who fall are given the same time as the riders crossing the line in the main pack. He kept his overnight lead of 12 seconds over Froome and 25 seconds over American rider Tejay Van Garderen.
Despite two broken ribs, sustained in Monday's stage 3 crash, Australian rider Michael Matthews took the start line — highlighting how tough the race has been so far.
Eritrean rider Daniel Teklehaimanot, Frenchman Perrig Quemeneur, and Belgian Kenneth Vanbilsen formed an early breakaway group.
Teklehaimanot scored points in the battle for the King of the Mountains jersey, meaning he will wear the famed polka-dot jersey on stage 7.
"It's special for me and my teammates," said Teklehaimanot, the first rider Eritrean to ride in the Tour. "It's huge for African sport."
Bruised and tired from five days of heat, ferocious winds — those scary crashes — and lashing rain, the peloton was in no mood to go quickly. The average speed in the first hour was a meager 38.4 kilometers (23.6) per hour as the riders passed through the Picardy region of northern France and into Normandy.
Van Bilsen surged away as he tried a solo stage win, while Teklehaimanot and Quemeneur were caught with about nine kilometers (5.6 miles) to go.
With Van Garderen's BMC Racing team driving from the front, Van Bilsen held on until 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the line.
"It was hard finish, BMC opened up full gas and it was tricky," Sagan said.
Martin, his yellow jersey shining, moved near to the front in order to put teammate Mark Cavendish in a good position to attack. But then, moments later, he was sat up against a railing, staring at the wreckage of another crash as the dazed riders looked around for their bikes.
Friday's seventh stage is another for sprinters.
It starts from Livarot in the Normandy region — home to a cheese of the same name — and ends 190.5 kilometers (118 miles) later in Fougeres, nestled in the Brittany region.