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Kittel sprints to third stage win in four

ESPN staff
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Marcel Kittel became the first rider in 38 years to win three of the first four Tour de France stages © Getty Images
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Marcel Kittel sprinted to victory in Lille for his third win in the opening four stages of the Tour de France as Vincenzo Nibali kept himself in the race leader's yellow jersey

Defending champion Chris Froome finished safely in the front group along with general classification rivals Alberto Contador and Nibali, despite suffering a nasty fall during the early stages on Tuesday which saw him receive medical treatment for a grazed hip and knee.

"He lost some skin, but we haven't lost any time," Team Sky's Bernard Eisel said of Froome, who remains two seconds behind Nibali and will be assessed by the medical team.

Grant-Shimano rider Kittel, who won Saturday's opening stage and also topped a pulsating sprint finish on The Mall in London yesterday, edged Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Demare by half a wheel for victory in the 163.5 km stage from Le Touquet-Paris-Plage to Lille.

Kittel becomes the first rider in 38 years to win three of the first four stages and the first since 1909 to win three out of four without a prologue.

"It was really exhausting. The last 30km, we rode with high speed. It was really fast and difficult to stay together with the team at the end," said Kittel.

"The boys delivered me to the front. Everything I was thinking about was the last corner, just before the finish. I was tempted to go at 500m, but then I sat down again. It was everything I had at the end.

"Today showed we are not unbeatable. It was close today."

Chris Froome had to receive medical treatment after an early crash during the 163.5 km fourth stage of the Tour de France © Getty Images
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Peter Sagan narrowly missed out on a podium place after fighting his way right onto Kittel's wheel from the back of the peloton having suffered a mechanical problem 20km from the finish line.

Andy Schleck, the 2010 winner, was forced to pull out before the start of the stage due to a knee injury he sustained in a crash during Monday's third stage from Cambridge to London.

Just past the half-way point of the stage, Tommy Voeckler and Luis Angel Mate formed a two-man breakaway but their two-minute lead was cut to one minute and 15 seconds after the Europcar man eased off for the Spaniard to get a new bike after a malfunction with his chain.

With 61km to run, their lead was cut to 30 seconds before Mate suffered a puncture and was swallowed up by the peloton, with Voeckler opting to go it alone, putting the hammer down to take his lead back out to a minute and a half.

Greg Henderson then suffered a nasty fall as he led the peloton round a roundabout and was forced to abandon, having battled back from knee surgery to make the event, in what was a big blow for Andre Greipel's hopes ahead of the sprint. Their Lotto-Belisol team-mates Bart De Clercq and Lars Bak were also caught up in the crash.

Voeckler stubbornly held onto his lead but the game was finally up around the 16.5km mark as the peloton finally pulled him back, while Sagan - in the points leader's green jersey - was forced to play catch-up after a mechanical, hopping curbs as he chased from the back.

As the peloton prepared for the inevitable sprint finish, Sagan used his elbows to fight his way through but narrowly missed out on a podium spot behind Kittel, Kristoff and Demare.

Stage four result:

1. Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shamano) 3hrs 36mins 39secs
2. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) - same time
3. Arnaud Demare (FDJ.fr)
4. Peter Sagan (Cannondale)
5. Bryan Coquard (Europcar)
6. Andre Greipel (Lotto Belisol)
7. Mark Renshaw (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step)
8. Danny van Poppel (Trek)
9. Davide Cimolai (Lampre)
10. Daniel Oss (BMC Racing)

General classification:

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita/Astana) 13hrs 31mins 13secs
2. Peter Sagan (Svk/Cannondale) +2secs
3. Michael Albasini (Swi/Orica GreenEdge) - same time
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel/BMC Racing)
5. Alberto Contador (Spa/Tinkoff - Saxo)
6. Alejandro Valverde (Spa/Movistar)
7. Chris Froome (GB/Team Sky)
8. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel/Lotto)

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