Marcel Kittel of Giant-Shimano has won his third stage of the Tour de France in four days after a hard and closely-fought sprint in Lille this afternoon – but the big news of the day is that defending champion Chris Froome of Team Sky fell badly early on, injuring himself ahead of what promises to be a very tough stage tomorrow including sections of cobbles used in Paris-Roubaix. Astana's Vincenzo Nibali retains the race lead.
Froome’s fall came just 5 kilometres into the 163.5km stage from Le Touquet-Paris Plage following a touch of wheels with another rider, his bibshorts ripped on his left hip, exposing road rash.
The Sky rider's left knee was heavily strapped by the race doctor, and he had a splint on his wrist, which could prove problematic with the vibrations on the cobbles tomorrow.
An x-ray suggested his wrist was not broken but the race doctor said that didn't mean she could give Froome the all-clear yet, and he may need another after tomorrow's stage.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step worked hard in the approach to the finish for Mark Renshaw, but once again it was a scrappy final kilometre. In the approach to the line, Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff seemed to have the victory, but he was pipped by Kittel with French champion Arnaud Demare of FDJ.fr third in a close finish.
For Kittel, it’s his sixth victory in seven Grand Tour road stages, beginning with his triumph in on the Champs Elysees in Paris last year, the German then picking up two in the Giro d’Italia in Ireland in May before abandoning, and he nowhas three in this year’s Tour, only missing out in Sheffield in Saunday.
Tomorrow’s 155.5km Stage 5 from Ypres to Arenberg – Porte du Hainaut includes nine sections, totalling 15.4 kilometres, of pavé used in Paris-Roubaix and with rain forecast expectations are that it may be a very difficult day for the peloton in general as well as those overall contenders not used to riding over the cobbles.
Froome’s misfortune today ahead of tomorrow’s tough stage is likely to reignite the debate about whether Team Sky should have taken 2012 Tour de France champion Sir Bradley Wiggins, a top ten finisher at Paris-Roubaix this year, to the race.
Following the hugely successful Grand Départ in Great Britain, the race resumed across the English Channel today, most of it played out in the Nord and Pas de Calais regions with the briefest of excursions into Belgium.
As yesterday, two men were in the break today, Thomas Voeckler of Europcar and the Cofidis rider Luis Mate. The latter had a puncture with 55 kilometres remaining, leaving former French champion Voeckler out on his own to the delight of the crowds lining the road, though he would eventually be brought back with 17 kilometres left.
Before that, at around 30 kilometres remaining and the peloton, still in pursuit of Voeckler, negotiating a roundabout, three Lotto-Belisol riders – Lars Bak, Bart de Clercq and Greg Henderson crashed on the exit of a roundabout, possibly due to a patch of oil.
Ironically, the team’s Jurgen Roelandts had said last night that he and his team mates felt glad to have got away from the three day Grand Depart across the Channel in one piece.
But with today’s stage played out on wet roads and a lot of street furniture to get past, today’s chute in Armentières just across the Belgian border, resulted in Henderson abandoning the race.
Also out is one of only two other former Tour de France champions who started this year’s Tour, Trek Factory Racing’s Andy Schleck, who failed to start this morning due to a knee injury sustained 30km from the end of yesterday’s stage from Cambridge to London.
Schleck came down with several other riders on the right-hand side of the peloton after Team Sky’s David Lopez, ahead of them on the road, suffered a glancing blow from a spectator who had strayed out into the road to take a photo.
Marcel Kittel, taking his 3rd sprint victory out of 3
It was not a long stage but it was fast and very nervous. We struggled to stay in the front. I tried to take Kristoff's wheel but it was hard. All the time I was only thinking about the line. I could see the finish line and I really gave everything I had today, but it was very difficult. We did not underestimate Kristoff, we always knew he was a very dangerous guy as he showed today.
Today we saw that we were not unbeatable. We must still focus on our race and our preparation. It was tough today. Tomorrow will be a very difficult stage but we also have ambitions in it. We have John Degenkolb, the rider who finished second in Paris-Roubaix.
Thomas Voeckler, winner of the combativity prize today
I decided to go on the attack this morning to get the engine going. I'm a 35-year-old diesel and need to warm up. I was under no illusions about the odds of making it to the finish, but I had lots of fun today. We're not afraid of tomorrow stage, but we're obviously apprehensive.
Our aim will be to keep Pierre (Rolland) safe and make sure he loses as little time as possible. Yesterday's small incident was nothing important. He's joined the ranks of the top stage racers, he's on a whole new level.
As for [the team's sprinter] Bryan Coquard, we've got to give him time to learn and make progress, but don't worry, you'll get the opportunity to write about him really soon.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.