Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) won take four of the Tour de France in a depleted bunch sprint after a crash in the final three kilometres brought down a number riders, including Team Sky’s Mark Cavendish.
A touch of wheels involving Robbie Hunter (Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda) caused a high-speed crash and Cavendish was among the riders to hit the ground hard but the world champion recovered to get back on his bike and finish the stage.
Lotto-Belisol’s sprint train, dictating the pace at the front of the peloton, escaped the pile-up and delivered Greipel to his second Tour stage victory ahead of Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano).
The peloton crossed the line in dribs and drabs but, as the crash happened in the final three kilometres, any rider in the front group will be awarded the same time as Greipel, with Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan-Trek) maintaining his seven-second advantage over Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky).
The stage looked set for a bunch sprint, with the quartet of category four climbs coming in the first two-thirds of the 214.5km ride from Abbeville to Rouen, and Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) wasted little time in forming the day’s breakaway.
The trio swept up the maximum points available at the intermediate sprint, while Cavendish was comfortably best from the rest, although tellingly Greipel opted not to contest the sprint in order to focus his effort on the stage win.
With the peloton closing in on the escapees, a short, uncategorised climb with 10km remaining provided the launch pad for a series of counter attacks, with Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) and, for the second day running, Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) among the rider to made an ambitious bid for glory.
Any attack was soon neutralised by the peloton, with the sprinters’ teams eager to set up a bunch sprint for the fast men, but a number of riders were disrupted by the crash, including Cavendish, who tried to serve and avoid Hunt, and his key team-mate Bernhard Eisel (Team Sky), who suffered a large cut above his eye.
Cavendish picked himself up off the tarmac and rolled across the line, battered and bruised in a scene similar to stage three of the Giro d’Italia, when the Manx Missile was brought down by Roberto Ferrari. The indication is that both Cavendish and Eisel will start stage five.
Lotto-Belisol had been dominating the run-in to Rouen until then, thereby keeping Greipel at the front of the pack and out of trouble, much in the same way Cavendish was protected by his former team, HTC-Highroad, at recent Tours, but the Brit has enjoyed less support this year by virtue of Team Sky’s yellow jersey campaign.
Petacchi, Veelers, Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) and double stage winner Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) were among the sprinters to avoid the crash but none could match Greipel’s turn of speed once the German jumped from the wheel of leadout man Greg Henderson.
1) André Greipel (GER) – Lotto-Belisol – 5:18.32 hours
2) Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) – Lampre-ISD
3) Tom Veelers (NED) – Argos-Shimano
4) Matthew Goss (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
5) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Liquigas-Cannondale
6) Jonathan Cantwell (AUS) – SaxoBank-Tinkoff
7) Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica-GreenEDGE
8) Kris Boeckmans (BEL) – Vacansoleil-DCM
9) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky
10) Ruben Perez Moreno (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi
1) Fabian Cancellara (SWI) RadioShack-Nissan-Trek – 14:45.30 hours
2) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) Team Sky +7″
3) Sylvain Chavanel (FRA) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +7″
4) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +10″
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky +11″
6) Denis Menchov (RUS) Katusha +13″
7) Cadel Evans (AUS) BMC Racing +17″
8) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas-Cannondale +18″
9) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) Garmin-Sharp-Barracuda – same time
10) Andreas Klöden (GER) RadioShack-Nissan-Trek +19″