(CNN) -- Italy's Alessandro Petacchi took the first stage of the Tour de France after a series of crashes marred the finish in the Belgian capital of Brussels on Sunday.
The 36-year-old Lampre star won the sprint for the line from a severely whittled down peloton after a chaotic finish which left many of the leading contenders on the tarmac.
Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara of the Saxo Bank team retained the race leader's yellow jersey following his prologue victory in Rotterdam on Saturday.
The 223.5 km run from the Dutch port city to Brussels was always expected to boil down to a bunch sprint finish and after the customary breakaways were reeled in, so it proved.
Britain's Mark Cavendish, who won six stages of last year's Tour de France, and Spanish fastman Oscar Freire were the first of the favorites to see their hopes ended with both going off on a tight corner.
Another big crash quickly followed, which held up the majority of the bunch behind a pile of tangled bikes and bodies while a third took place in the last 200 meters.
Cancellara said he had hit the floor after doing a "somersault" while defending champion Alberto Contador came home 48th on the stage with his arch-rival Lance Armstrong in 56th.
Seven-time Tour winner Armstrong told his twitter blog that it "total mayhem", but he survived to stay in fourth overall at 22 seconds behind Cancellara.
Petacchi took full advantage to win from Cavendish's HTC-Columbia lead out man Mark Renshaw of Australia, with Thor Hushovd third for Cervelo, valuable points for the Norwegian in the battle for the green points jersey with Cavendish.
It was Petacchi's fifth Tour de France stage win but first since 2003 when he was at the peak of his powers.
"It wasn't unexpected for me," he told AFP.
"I'm here to sprint and win stages, and to do my best and that's what I did.
"Of course Cavendish and I are sure to sprint against each other, but even if he hadn't been caught up in a crash who's to say I wouldn't have won. I think I did a great sprint," he added.
Monday's second stage takes the peloton over 201 kilometres from Brussels to Spa.