|Wiggins had been hoping to improve on his fourth place finish two years ago [Reuters]
Bradley Wiggins's Tour de France dream ended when the Briton crashed and broke his collarbone in the 218-km seventh stage from Le Mans won by his compatriot Mark Cavendish on Friday.
It was meagre consolation for the British champion to see his Olympic teammate triumph for the 17th time on the race in the town of Chateauroux where Cavendish celebrated his first Tour stage win in 2008.
"It's obviously a devastating day for the team. He was in great shape," said Wiggins's Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford.
"He put so much work into this Tour and it's just a shame we don't get to see him in the mountains because he was in the best shape of his life. Things change very quickly and that's what happened today."
Wiggins's misfortune was all the more disappointing as it came a day after Team Sky's first Tour stage win by Norway's Edvald Boasson-Hagen in Lisieux and a day before the race moved to the mountains, away from fast, tricky and stressful stages on the flat.
While the pursuit Olympic champion was in hospital with his team doctor, Cavendish, who won the Madison world champion title with Wiggins in 2008, was celebrating beating arch-rivals Alessandro Petacchi of Italy and Germany's Andre Greipel on the final stretch.
"It's a special stage for me. I won my first Tour stage here in Chateauroux and it's very sentimental. It's what I fell in love with," said Cavendish.
Cavendish, the best sprinter in the peloton, spared a thought for the leader of a team he has been strongly rumoured to be joining next season as his current HTC Highroad outfit are struggling to find a sponsor.
"Brad was in the form of his life I really believe he would have done something in this Tour de France. I really hope for a speedy recovery," he said.
Cavendish praised his team mates who "swarmed around" him all day, sheltering him from the wind and crashes and leading him out safely to victory.
"I don't have to do anything; they deliver me with 150 metres to go as was the case today."
Wiggins was not the only victim on roads made treacherous by high speeds, gusting winds and occasional downpours.
Tom Boonen of Belgium, the 2005 world champion and 2007 green jersey winner, bade farewell to the Tour 90 kms into the stage after being involved in a crash two days ago.
In the same pile-up as Wiggins were Americans Chris Horner, who lay for a while in a ditch before getting back on his bike, and Tyler Farrar, as well as Frenchman Remy Pauriol, who also broke his collarbone.
The crash split the peloton and Levi Leipheimer, one of the favourites, was trapped in the second group, finishing three minutes six seconds behind Cavendish.
"Three crashes in three days; my Tour has hardly started yet - it's chaos out there", the RadioShack team leader said.
The Tour tackles its first serious climbs on Saturday in a 189-km eighth stage between Aigurande and Super-Besse and Norway's Thor Hushovd, the Tour leader since stage two, made it clear he did not rate his chances as very high.
"I have kept the yellow jersey for six days and it was almost perfect," he said. "Now, obviously, it is too hard for me to keep the jersey and we're not going to defend it."