Froome, who knows a thing or two about leadership battles in this race after his uncomfortable relationship with Bradley Wiggins at the 2012 Tour, said it was good to have Thomas near the top of the standings.
The 231km trawl, the longest of the race, through the Mayenne and Sarthe to Chartres, was enlivened only by the peloton speeding into the cathedral city for an inevitable sprint finish, won by the Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto NL-Jumbo) from Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). "Phil went early and he's still pretty close on GC [general classification] so I couldn't let him go".
It was Martin's second Tour stage win after his first in 2013.
"I'm happy with that, " Sagan said. Van Avermaet said. "But everyone kind of enjoyed it - the first day we could really relax".
"I was afraid of the crosswinds and maybe it was adrenalin but the legs were there and it all worked out".
The Dutchman of LottoNL-Jumbo defeated both Fernando Gaviria and Peter Sagan easily, as he finally showed what he is capable of in this race.
Martin was one of several team leaders along with former Tour victor Vincenzo Nibali and two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana who were caught off-guard by an attack by Quick-Step 100 kilometers into the stage during a straightaway that was exposed to crosswinds.
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"I was following quite good wheels but it was choppy". "The legs are good now and I am very happy with this win".
After a few early attacks failed, Yoann Offredo launched a solo effort 35 kilometers in.
Mur de Bretagne, France (AP) - Sometimes in cycling the bike can be the rider's biggest enemy.
Laurent Pichon, another French rider with Fortuneo-Samsic, then also got away alone for a spell.
The Dutch cyclist, who rides for Team Lotto NL-Jumbo, clocked almost six hours over the 231-kilometer (143.5-mile) trek from Fougeres, home to the best-preserved and largest medieval fortress in Europe, to Chartres, site of a vast cathedral known for its stained-glass windows.
Sunday's key stage over the cobbled roads of the "Hell of the North", used in the spring classic Paris-Roubaix, is now looming on the horizon, and most teams are focusing on the sporting and logistical demands of racing on roads that are sure to create drama. But, in the end, it came down to a bunch sprint as expected.
Overnight leader Greg Van Avermaet finished in the same time as Sagan to wear the yellow jersey for a third day, whereas title contenders Dumoulin and Bardet lost time due to mechanical issues.