A major crash saw several big name riders have to withdraw from the race, including leader Fabian Cancellara ©Getty Images

Spain’s Joaquim Rodriquez claimed victory on the third stage of the Tour de France, as Britain’s Chris Froome finished runner-up to move into the overall race lead, having avoided being caught up in a major crash before the stage drew to a close on top of Belgium's Mur de Huy.

Following the drama of the yesterday’s stage where several large time gaps were established between the race favourites on the flat roads of The Netherlands, the first opportunity to gain ground on the uphill sections presented itself on the 159.6 kilometres course from Anterwp to the Mur de Huy.

The race descended into chaos, however, as the peloton approached the first climb of this year’s race, up the Côte de Bohisseau, France’s William Bonnet crashed, causing a chain reaction which took down a large number of riders.

Among those involved were three-time stage winner Simon Gerrans of Australia and the wearer of the white jersey for best young rider,  Tom Dumoulin of The Netherlands,.

Both men were forced to abandon the race,  alongside Bonnet.

The crash also included the race leader, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara, who was able to get back onto his bike and attempt to rejoin the leading group after the race had been briefly neutralised due to the high speed nature of the crash.

In addition, a smaller crash occurred further on.

Cancellera was able to complete the stage some way off the back of the main field, but has also been forced to abandon having suffered fractured vertebrae, just months after recovering from sustaining the same injury earlier in the year.

As racing resumed at the 50km to go marker and with Team Sky, Astana and Saxo-Tinkoff all working to set a blistering pace, gaps developed for the second consecutive day.

The race was briefly halted due to the high speed nature of the crash
The race was briefly halted due to the high speed nature of the crash ©Getty Images

Unlike yesterday when Colombia’s Nairo Quintana and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Italy were caught out by the move, the main contenders were all well positioned in the group as the race advanced into the final stages as they prepared for the climb up the Mur de Huy.

The climb has been made famous as part of the Flèche-Wallonne classic and although the race approached the steep ascent from a different route to the one-day race, Rodriquez who won the classic in 2012 was able to repeat the trick today.

The Spaniard accelerated away from the field inside the final kilometre and, although he was tracked by Froome, he held on to secure his second stage victory at the Tour by finishing in 3 hours 26min 54sec.

Froome’s pursuit of Rodriquez proved enough to see him move into the yellow for the first time since he was confirmed as the winner of the race in 2013.

His time bonus at the finish moved him a second clear of second place Tony Martin of Germany, who narrowly missed out on the race lead for the second consecutive day.

The British rider now holds a 36 seconds lead over Spain’s Alberto Contador, while Nibali is 13th overall 1:38 back and Quintana lies 1:56 behind.

Froome will be hoping for better fortunes tomorrow on a cobbled stage four, having crashed out of last year’s race as the peloton approached a paved section, with the race set to begin in Seraing, Belgium, before entering France for the first time in this year’s race as the 223.5km course ends in Cambrai.

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