Tour de France Stage 4: Marcel Kittel picks up third stage win already

Marcel Kittel beats the pack to the line again. (Getty Images)
Marcel Kittel beats the pack to the line again. (Getty Images)

The Tour de France hit a new country on Tuesday but had the same sprint result; Germany's Marcel Kittel was victorious.

As was the case in Stages 1 and 3, Kittel was able to beat the competition to the finish line and win his third stage of this Tour already that is just four stages old. The leadout to the sprint was a bit more drawn out on Tuesday but Kittel had just enough to beat out the other sprinters by a tire length and remain the man to beat in this race.

For Kittel it is already his seventh career Stage victory in the Tour de France and this is just his second Tour. He won four stages in 2013 and at this point he's on his way to beating that mark with three wins in four days already.

As was expected, Tuesday was a pretty straight-forward ride, playing out with a relatively smooth ride up to the sprint in the French city of Lille.

Tuesday's breakaway group was again just a pairing, this time of always aggressive French rider Thomas Voeckler and Luis Mate. A pair of bike issues resulted in Mate being left behind and he was swllowed up by the peloton, leaving Voeckler on a one-man break. Try as he might, he was reeled in with around 10 miles to go to set up another sprint finish.

Early in the ride defending champion and of course one of the top contenders against this year, Chris Froome of England, was the victim of a small collision in the peloton and was sent hard to the roadway. He was able to get back up and rejoined the peloton in a matter of minutes but Froome had to be treated for some small abrasions on his left hip as well as getting a splint for his wrist.

Greg Henderson, the leadout man for the other German sprinter, Andrei Greipel, lost traction on a turn and fell, suffering a knee injury on the crash that caused him to withdraw from the race, further strengthening Kittel's place as the top sprinter.

Beyond those two crashes, it was an otherwise quiet day with no changes at the top of the general classification; Vincenzo Nibali remained in yellow with a two-second lead on 20 other riders including Americans Tejay van Garderen and Andrew Talansky.

Photo of the day

Pro cycling is anything but a casual ride, especially in the peloton. Defending champion Chris Froome rides on showing the damage from his crash in the opening kilometers of Tuesday's Stage 4 (via Getty Images).

What's next

Just looking at the profile, Wednesday looks like it should be as straight-forward as a stage in the Tour de France gets as there is nary a hill to see. In this case looks are deceiving.

After having the first French stage of the Tour in Stage 4 on Tuesday, Stage 5 begins in another country again, this time in Ypres, Belgium. The 155.5 kilometer ride straddles the French border before the riders cross back into France and finishes in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut.

What makes Stage 5 so interesting is the return of cobblestone roads to the Tour. In parts of Belgium and northern France, there are still roads that go way, way back and that can wreak havoc on a peloton. There's a reason why it's referred to as the Hell in the North.

Plenty of riders have experience on cobblestones and normally it wouldn't be much of an issue for bikers of this quality but squeezing a large group onto the small, uneven roadways always has potential for something crazy. In 2010 there was a cobblestone stage that also finished in Arenberg Porte du Hainaut and in that race Lance Armstrong popped a tire on the road and ended up losing a lot of time. Also in 2010, top contender Frank Schleck crashed and broke his collarbone and ended his race altogether.

Point is, you never really know what the cobblestones have in store, nobody is safe so Wednesday should be fun.

Alberto Contador did some scouting of the roads in April and as you can see, it's left him (and all the riders) with a decision.

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