ROUEN, France (AP) — The bell almost tolled for Mark Cavendish in the city of 100 bells.
The reigning world champion hit the tarmac in a high-speed pileup in the finale of Wednesday's fourth stage of the Tour de France, a 133-mile trek across Normandy that ended in Rouen, known for the abundance of bell towers in its many medieval churches.
The British rider's crash almost scuttled his hopes of Olympic glory in the London Games, but he managed to get back on his bike and roll in to the finish, banged up but safe.
Cavendish was expected to start Thursday's stage in Rouen, Team Sky manager David Brailsford said after the stage.
"After a crash like that, it's high emotion," Brailsford said.
"When you hit the ground that fast, it shakes you up, it builds up adrenaline," he said. "We'll let the adrenaline ... calm down and see where we are later. It should be OK tomorrow."
A second stage win in this year's race would have put Cavendish even with Lance Armstrong's 22 career Tour stage wins. The crash highlighted Cavendish's relative lack of protection on his team, with Sky riders focusing on Bradley Wiggins' task of capturing the yellow jersey.
Cavendish is used to riding the Tour with teams dedicated to delivering him safely to the final 500 meters, where his nearly unequaled acceleration has helped him crush the field for the past four years on the Tour, nabbing 21 stage wins since 2008 and winning the green points jersey last year.
Just after Cavendish's crash his girlfriend was quick to react on her Twitter feed, hinting that the Sky team should take better care of the rider.
"Cavendish is down, and that is what happens when you take a man that is so harshly marked to the Tour without protection," Peta Todd wrote. "This is people's lives. If you haven't got the intention of making sure you have the team to look after the World Champ. Don't just wing it. He is just a man."
With Cavendish out, Germany's Andre Greipel led a final dash among the remaining top Tour de France sprinters to claim his second career stage win on the Tour.
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara avoided the trouble and retained the overall lead for a fifth day after the trek alongside the English Channel from Abbeville to Rouen.
The top standings didn't change: The Swiss leads Wiggins, who hopes to become Britain's first Tour winner, by 7 seconds. Defending champion Cadel Evans of Australia is 17 seconds off the pace in seventh.
After the crash, Greipel burst out of the depleted group of sprinters and sped to the straightaway finish, a split-second ahead of Italy's Alessandro Petacchi and Dutch rider Tom Veelers.
"This is what we wanted. It's a good victory," Greipel said after his 14th victory in all competitions this year.
He said he didn't pay much attention to the late crash.
"I heard something behind me ... but 60 kilometers per hour, you don't worry about what happened behind," the Lotto-Belisol rider said in an interview with France-2 TV.
Despite the crash, Greipel, who was perfectly set up by lead-out man Gregory Henderson, said his victory was well-deserved.
"There were still really fast guys there for the sprint and I think we just deserve this victory," he said, playing down a question about whether he savored it less because Cavendish was knocked out.
"I think it's no question about that," Greipel said. "I won a stage in the Tour de France."
The group spill also brought down Garmin-Sharp's Robbie Hunter, and Cavendish's lead-out man on Sky, Bernhard Eisel of Austria.
Brailsford hinted at Cavendish's mood afterward.
"I can't repeat what he said when they came into the bus," he told French television.
Cavendish, who was voted the BBC's sports personality of the year in Britain last year, won Monday's second stage in a sprint.
Another rider caught up in the crash was Tyler Farrar, a sprint specialist on U.S. team Garmin-Sharp. He flew off his bike then "somersaulted over his bars, tucked and rolled and ended up on his feet running away from the crash," team chiropractor Matt Rabin tweeted after the race.
According to the Tour rulebook, riders who get delayed by a crash in the last three kilometers of a stage are awarded the same time as the stage winner.
The pack clocked the same time as Greipel — 5 hours, 18 minutes, 32 seconds — though some stragglers nursing wounds from crashes earlier this week, like world time-trial champion Tony Martin of Germany, and Tom Danielson of the United States, straggled in 2:21 behind.
Cancellara, who briefly got stalled by the crash, was relieved he didn't get caught up in the wreckage.
"I'm really happy to get past that, a fall early hurts ... today it was calm, and then hectic at the finish," the Swiss rider said.
Thursday's fifth stage promises another bunch sprint, after a mostly flat 122-mile course from Rouen to Saint-Quentin north of Paris.