Another sprint stage and another win for Marcel Kittel, his third victory in four stages, on a day marked by wind, crashes and a hotly contested sprint for the line.
It was the Tour’s first stage on French roads and, unsurprisingly, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) attacked from the flag. He was joined by Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), whose team sponsor is based in Lille. The two combined to enjoy plenty of television time but the sprinters’ teams never allowed them to build any great advantage.
Cannondale’s impetus split the bunch on a stage prey to the vagaries of the wind and for 20km or so Omega Pharma-Quick Step was forced to chase to return Michal Kwiatkowski to the leading bunch. Consequently, the pace was high for the last 50km of racing and, as the peloton swung into town on rapidly drying roads, there was the inevitable jostling for position to protect the leading contenders and set up sprint trains. Sagan fell and had to chase back on in the last 15km while a deep cut to the knee forced the retirement of Greg Henderson (Lotto-Belisol).
But none could stop the might of the black and white Giant-Shimano locomotive which delivered Marcel Kittel to his third Tour stage win (and seventh in total). Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) launched a bit too early to maintain his challenge. By contrast, French champion Arnaud Demare (FDJ) was a tad too late and ran out of road. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) was fourth and retains both the points and best young rider jerseys.
The GC contenders all finished safely in the bunch and live to fight tomorrow on the hallowed pavé of Roubaix.
The big news of the day wasn’t Kittel’s fine victory but the fall of defending champion Chris Froome (Sky). Just 4km into the stage, he slipped off the road and into a ditch after a touch of wheels. Bruised and battered he resumed riding while the peloton gallantly cooled its heels waiting for him and Bauke Mollema (Belkin), also held up by the crash, to rejoin.
A trip to the doctor’s car saw healing unguent and bandages applied to Froome’s left side. He was sent to hospital for what Dave Brailsford called “a precautionary x-ray” on his wrist.
There’s never a good time to fall as the body requires precious adrenaline and energy to heal itself. But the worst time has got to be the day before a cobbled stage, where every bump and jolt will be magnified many times over. We’ll see how significant Froome’s fall was tomorrow afternoon.
— Cyril Lemoine (@CyriLemoine) 8 Juillet 2014
This is definitely a case of a step too far!
VeloVoices rider of the day
It has to be Thomas Voeckler who treated us to plenty of tongue lashing and grimacing for around 170km today. He was rewarded with the day’s combativity prize. You just know it won’t be the last time we see him in a break.
Stage 4 result
1. Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) 3:36:39
2. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) same time
3. Arnaud Demare (FDJ) s/t
4. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) s/t
5. Bryan Coquard (Europcar) s/t
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 17:07:52
2. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) +0:02
3. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) s/t
4. Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t
5. Chris Froome (Sky) s/t
6. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) s/t
7. Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
8. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) s/t
9. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) s/t
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) s/t
Points leader: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
King of the Mountains leader: Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis).
Best young rider: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Team classification: Sky.