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British Cycling’s Podium Programme rider, Mark Cavendish's hopes of a 22nd Tour de France win were derailed when he was caught up in a late crash at the end of stage four.
The world champion, winner of stage two 48 hours earlier, was seeking to draw level with Lance Armstrong and Andre Darrigade by adding to his 21 Tour stage victories.
But he - and colleague Bernhard Eisel - were among a number of riders brought down in a mass pile-up with 2.7 kilometres remaining.
Cavendish was later able to get back on his bike and roll across the line, albeit with his ripped world champion's jersey clear evidence of the force of the impact, while Eisel required stitches in a cut above his right eyebrow.
Up ahead André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) claimed the victory ahead of Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-ISD) and Tom Veelers (Argos-Shimano).
As the collision occurred inside the final 3km of the stage those caught up were credited with the same time as the winner, meaning Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) retains the race leader's yellow jersey, leading Bradley Wiggins by seven seconds.
Team Sky doctor Alan Farrell gave us an encouraging update on the condition of both Cavendish and Eisel following the stage, saying: "Both Cav and Bernie had heavy crashes but luckily all their injuries seem relatively superficial and there are no broken bones.
"We are just taking them back to the hotel for further assessment and to look after their wounds but we are very hopeful in terms of the prognosis and outlook."
CALM BEFORE THE STORM
The stage had earlier unfolded in much more sedate fashion, Yukiya Arashiro (Europcar), David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun) forming the day's three-man breakaway, which began in the opening kilometre.
Japan's Arashiro led the trio over the intermediate line in Fecamp with 74.5km of the stage remaining, the peloton followed six minutes later, with Cavendish leading the sprint ahead of Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE), Mark Renshaw (Rabobank) and maillot vert Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
The peloton then increased the tempo in pursuit of the escapees, with Lotto-Belisol and Orica-GreenEDGE two of the teams to the fore.
A handful of riders broke out of the peloton in an attempt to bridge the gap with 10km to go, and Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) stayed clear on the final descent into Rouen.
It was a forlorn break, though, as the sprinters' teams set to work and the peloton soaked up the trio with 3km remaining.
Just as the teams sought to get their teams in position for the finale, an innocuous stage turned sour with a large crash.
With Cavendish down, Greipel was able to avoid the crash and surge to victory, while Sagan, winner of stage one and three, added to his points haul by finishing fifth.
After the stage Sports Director Sean Yates admitted his disappointment to see Team Sky riders caught up in accidents for the second day running.
“It was certainly not what we wanted to see," he said. The lead-up to a sprint is very dangerous and we see this kind of thing time and time again. Nobody wants to see crashes for anybody and we were among the victims again today.
“There wasn’t a lot of room there in the bunch. At that speed with a touch of wheels, before you know it you are lying on the deck. The guys are battered and bruised but they will fight on. These guys are tough. We saw Cav jump back up after his accident at the Giro. There's an eye-popping behind the scenes photo gallery documenting the aftermath of the crash from Team Sky here.
“Up to that point the day had been relatively straight forward and a lot calmer than yesterday. But it’s never over until it’s over. The crash was inside the 3km and so the rule applies and Bradley held station on the GC.”
The latest green jersey standings see Sagan on 147 points, ahead of Goss on 92, Greipel on 87 and Cavendish on 86.
Michael Mørkøv (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) still tops the mountains classification while Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Edvald Boasson Hagen - fourth and fifth on the GC - are the top two in the young rider standings and Team Sky head the team classification.
The sprinters should again take centre stage on Thursday as another flat stage covers 196.5km from Rouen to Saint-Quentin.
Results after stage 4:
1 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 5:18:32
2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
3 Tom Veelers (Ned) Argos-Shimano
4 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
5 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
6 Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
7 Daryl Impey (RSA) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
8 Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
9 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
10 Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
36 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
125 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team
154 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
155 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Sharp
188 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling
General Classification after stage 4
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 20:04:02
2 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
4 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:00:10
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 0:00:11
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team 0:00:13
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:17
8 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:18
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - Sharp
10 Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan 0:00:19
50 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:41
128 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:09:56
149 Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing Team 0:11:45
156 David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Sharp
1 Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 147 pts
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team 92
3 André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 87
4 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 86
5 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 81
6 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 74
7 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 71
8 Tom Veelers (Ned) Argos-Shimano 56
9 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Rabobank Cycling Team 46
10 Michael Morkov (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 40