Cavendish also sought to dispel speculation that he might be already looking ahead to the London Olympics, at which he will be one of the favorites to win gold in the road race.
“It [the Tour] is the most beautiful race of the year for me,” he said. “Here, it’s the Tour de France ... I can’t say the Olympics are more important.”
The riders’ only climbing challenge on Monday was a winding, low-grade ascent up the citadel of Namur — a medieval town that is the capital of the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium and hosts an annual beer festival in the spring.
The flat layout helped riders keep pace with each other in a tight peloton against the wind, setting the stage for a sprint finish.
Three breakaway riders, including Anthony Roux of France with an injured left wrist which hung limply by his handlebars, led for most of the day. The peloton swallowed up Roux, the last to hold out, with 14km to go.
Nursing injuries from crashes in Sunday’s stage, Tony Martin of Germany — the reigning world time-trial champion — and Luis Leon Sanchez of Spain straggled across the finish line, 4 minutes, 22 seconds behind the peloton.
The three-week race now returns to France for more mostly flat stages before the Alps next week and Pyrenees in the week after that. The race finishes on July 22 on Paris’ Champs-Elysees.
Stage 3 is a 197km trek from Orchies to the English Channel fishing town of Boulogne-sur-Mer.