Cycling world champion Mark Cavendish opted to save himself for a challenging finale of the 13th Tour de France stage to Le Cap d'Agde instead of contesting the day's intermediate sprint.
With Team Sky's priority Bradley Wiggins' bid to win the Tour and with Chris Froome a place behind in second overall, Cavendish appears to have given up on the defence of the points classification prize he won in 2011.
The 27-year-old from the Isle of Man, who won stage two but was more than 100 points adrift of green jersey incumbent Peter Sagan at the start of the day, was instead looking to add to his haul of 21 Tour stage wins, with Saturday's route providing a possible opportunity.
Five Frenchman were in the eight-man Bastille Day escape as the Tour headed for the shores of the Mediterranean with the 217-kilometre route from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.
The best-placed overall was Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale), who began the day in 54th place, more than an hour behind Wiggins.
Also in the breakaway were French quartet Jerome Pineau (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-Bigmat) and Jimmy Engoulvent (Saur-Sojasun), Michael Morkov (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff), Roy Curvers (Argos-Shimano) and Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
The maximum gain of the eight-man escape was nine minutes 20 seconds at the 35km mark, but at the intermediate sprint, which came after 126.5km of racing, with 90.5km to go, the advantage was less than four minutes.
After the escape went through without contesting the sprint, Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) led the peloton over the line, with Cavendish content to stay by the side of his Team Sky colleagues.
With the final 50km running near the coast and winds likely to play a part, the breakaway faced a tough task to stay clear of the peloton.
Another obstacle was the 1.6km Mont Saint-Clair, a brutal short, sharp category three ascent rising out of the coastal town of Sete. The climb had the potential to change the race, but a long coastal run-in was also set to come into play.