Kittel too strong again as German takes stage
Marcel Kittel won his third stage on this year's Tour de France by prevailing in a bunch sprint on Tuesday (local time) after defending champion Chris Froome suffered a fall.
The German rider, who won the first and third stages, now has seven Tour stages to his name after beating Norwegian Alexander Kristoff and France's Arnaud Demare.
It did not go as smoothly as in his first two victories, however, as his Giant-Shimano team could not lead him into the finale, but Kittel finished off the job himself.
"I was not sure when to start my sprint, it worked out but it was very close," Kittel told a news conference.
"In the end there was a possibility to sit on the wheels of another team."
The Giant-Shimano train was put to the test by other teams, who rode hard in the final three kilometres in an effort to isolate Kittel.
"We should take it maybe as a compliment," the German said. "The most important thing was that my team brought me to the front. It was fast and very nervous but I was there with one kilometre to go."
Italian Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall leader's yellow jersey after spending a quiet day in the peloton, which was not the case for Froome on the eve of a treacherous stage.
The Briton fell off his bike five kilometres into the 163.5-km ride from Le Touquet but quickly got back, sustaining a possible wrist injury and bruising his left hip, shoulder, knee and elbow.
"It's alright, it's alright. We got really scared because it was a heavy fall but he seems to be OK. He says it's OK," said Team Sky sports director Nicolas Portal.
Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford, who appeared nervous back at the team bus next to Lille's Pierre Mauroy stadium, said that Froome needed to be examined.
"He felt well in the finale but we are taking him for an X-ray just to check his wrist," Brailsford told reporters.
"We'll post news on our website."
After having his wrist scanned, Froome, who declined to comment on the day, gave a thumbs up in the direction of reporters.
Froome, fifth overall and two seconds behind Nibali, crashed on the same side during last month's Criterium du Dauphine.
His wrist will be put to the test on the cobblestones that mark Wednesday's 155.5km fifth stage from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.
After three stages in Britain, where huge crowds turned up to support the peloton from Yorkshire to London, the race came back to France as it heads towards the Vosges through the North.
The wind caused a split in the peloton some 60km from the finish with Pole Michal Kwiatkowski being trapped behind, but he was brought back by his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team mates.
Slovakian Peter Sagan fell off his bike with less than 20km left but made it back into the bunch, finishing fifth to retain his lead in the points classification.
Andy Schleck, the 2010 champion whose career has been in free fall over the past two years, pulled out with a knee injury after crashing in Tuesday's third stage.
Wednesday's stage features 15.4 km of cobbled sections that could be made more treacherous if it rains as predicted.
"I saw the forecast for tomorrow and nobody is looking forward to it," Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas told reporters.
"It's going to be stressful but it's the same for everyone, hopefully we will stay out of trouble."