LILLE, France – Back in the race’s home country after the first three days in England, the Tour de France faces a first possible shakeout Wednesday over the bone-rattling cobblestones in northern France.
Many cyclists dreaded the forecast for rain, meaning the nine cobblestone sections will be slick.
Tuesday’s fourth stage had what has become a familiar outcome this year. German sprinter Marcel Kittel of the Giant-Shimano team earned his third stage victory, increasing his career total in the Tour to seven.
Unlike the opening and third stages, when he made victory look relatively easy, Kittel won by a half-wheel length over Norwegian Alexander Kristoff of the Katusha team in the 101.5-mile ride from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille Metropole.
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Kittel’s time was 3 hours, 36 minutes, 39 seconds. After a difficult day of crosswinds, pockets of rain-smattered roads and jumpy nerves in the peloton, he said, “It’s never easy … (I was) lucky just enough at the finish line.”
Astana team leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy kept the overall leader’s yellow jersey in what he called a “crazy race.”
Defending champion Chris Froome, a Briton who competes for Team Sky, scuffed his left knee and elbow and injured his left wrist in a crash minutes into the stage.
“Took quite a tumble today but I’ll definitely be starting tomorrow with no serious damage,” Froome said on Twitter. “It’ll be a tough one for everyone on the cobbles!”