Norway's Alexander Kristoff won the 185.5km 12th stage of the Tour de France after a sprint finish in Saint-Etienne on Thursday.
Peter Sagan took second on a stage for the fourth time this Tour without winning one, while young French sprinter Arnaud Demare was third.
Italian Vincenzo Nibali maintained the leader's yellow jersey after finishing safely in the peloton.
Another undulating stage which started in Bourg-en-Bresse in baking conditions proved something of a lull before the expected fireworks of Friday's first Alpine stage.
A five-man breakaway spent most of the day in front but was gradually whittled down to just Australian Simon Clarke.
He was caught by Frenchmen Cyril Gautier and Perrig Quemeneur with 20km left but they were all reeled in with 5km to go.
Sagan's Cannondale team took over the pace-setting duties in a bid to finally drag their team leader to a stage victory after eight top-10 finishes in the first 11 stages.
Several top sprinters had been shelled out the back of the field on the lumpy terrain leading up to the finish, making Sagan and German John Degenkolb amongst the favourites for sprint victory.
But following his win at Milan-San Remo back in March, Kristoff gained his second major success of the season.
And for Sagan, it was once again back to the drawing board as he looks for a first win this Tour having won four over the previous two editions.
French hopes are high
The 101st edition of the Tour de France is turning into a memorable one for the host nation.
Tony Gallopin won Wednesday's 11th stage from Besancon to Oyonnax after 187.5km of racing to add to Blel Kadri's success on Saturday's eighth stage.
Gallopin also wore the coveted leader's yellow jersey on Bastille Day on Monday after his strong finish the day before stripped Italian Vincenzo Nibali of the jersey for only the second day during this Tour.
What's more, there remain four Frenchmen in the top eight and three of those are aged 26 and under, meaning they probably have their best years ahead of them.
Perhaps the brightest prospect, 23-year-old Romain Bardet, sits fourth at 3:01 behind Nibali and holds the top young rider's white jersey.
French newspaper L'Equipe on Wednesday suggested Bardet, sixth-placed Thibaut Pinot, 24, and eighth-placed Jean-Christophe Peraud, 34, that this could be their best ever chance to win the Tour.
But Bardet said it's too early for him.
"It's my second Tour, I'll take it as it goes. Maybe in the next few years there's no reason I can't finish on the podium but this year it could be a bit difficult," he said.
But with Gallopin, who is fifth overall but does not have the climbing ability to stay in the top 10 once the race hits the Alps on Saturday, leading the way in terms of grabbing the headlines, Bardet says French cycling fans can expect a lot from the new breed.
"It's true that it's a very good Tour for the new generation of French riders," he said.