Defending champion Chris Froome was hoping to avoid any lingering after effects of his fourth stage crash as Marcel Kittel claimed a hat-trick of Tour de France wins in Lille on Tuesday.
Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won a third stage win from four attempts on the 163.5 kilometre stage from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, which began with drama as Froome crashed.
After negotiating three British stages unscathed, Froome tumbled 6km into French soil, tearing his shorts, suffering grazes to the left side he hurt in June’s Criterium du Dauphine and damaging his wrist.
Froome visited the race doctor and required a splint on his wrist to finish the stage, and afterwards he was sent for a precautionary X-ray.
His joints will face a major test on today’s fifth stage, the 155.5km route from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hinaut, which features nine cobbled sections totalling more than 15km.
Froome may not have lost time, but he dropped back from fifth to seventh in the overall rankings, behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Froome finished 42nd on the stage, while Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was 24th to retain the race leader’s yellow jersey. The Team Sky leader’s wobble could be significant over the cobbles, where punctures are common, as his team support car will be delayed in reaching him.
The forecast wet weather will make the cobbled stage even trickier for the peloton as the Tour commemorates 100 years since the start of World War One.
Andy Schleck, the 2010 winner, did not start due to a knee injury suffered in a crash on stage three from Cambridge to London on Monday, when Kittel won.
Another sprint stage was expected in Lille, but that did not put off an early two-man breakaway and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) continued alone when fellow escapee Luis Mate (Cofidis) was swallowed up by the peloton inside the final 40km.
Voeckler was caught with 17km to go and the sprinters’ teams tried to take control, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep to the fore despite the absence of Mark Cavendish, who on Wednesday will undergo shoulder surgery which will put him out for six weeks.
Giant-Shimano lurked menacingly and took over inside the final 2km.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was first to launch his sprint, but despite appearing more laboured than on The Mall 24 hours earlier, Kittel triumphed once more.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved