The 141-mile course Thursday -- the sixth and longest stage in the three-week race -- made for a dangerous trip. And the field was fortunate to avoid a major crash, a day after riders went tumbling everywhere.
"It was another nervous stage and because of the rain I virtually couldn't see anything," said Contador, the defending champion and three-time Tour winner who crashed Wednesday. "At the end of the stage I was moving to the very front of the pack, simply to avoid accidents, and not because I wanted to attack."
Contador and his Tour rivals, like two-time runners-up Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck, played it safe as Edvald Boasson Hagen, of Norway, led a sprint to capture his first stage on the Tour. He finished in 5 hours, 13 minutes, 37 seconds.
Matt Goss of Australia was second and overall race leader Thor Hushovd was third, giving Norway the distinction of having the stage winner and yellow jersey holder on the same day.
Moving fairly close to the front meant relative safety for Contador, Schleck and Evans. They all were part of the first 50 of the 197 riders who completed the stage.
"Yesterday wind, today rain. ... Luckily, there seemed to be some kind of understanding within the peloton not to take too many risks today," Schleck said. "As if all the teams had suffered enough crashes yesterday."
A rider would have encountered untold trouble if caught behind the peloton in a dominolike crash on the treacherous, narrow roads snaking toward Normandy. Wind made things even more hazardous, as fans watched, soaked to the skin.
Evans kept second overall. The Australian is one second behind Hushovd while Schleck is 12 seconds behind in 10th spot. Contador is 1:42 off the lead in 34th place.
Contador tested positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbuterol late in last year's Tour and he could yet be stripped of all his titles back to last July if the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules against him next month.
Tour organizers have been looking to spice up what is traditionally a predictable first week for sprinters by making otherwise routine stages more difficult, opening possibilities for others. It has not met with much approval from riders.