Treble tops for sprint king Marcel Kittel at Tour de France

Marcel Kittel continues domination of the sprint finishes while Vincenzo Nibali still leads and there is a scare for defending champion Chris Froome after early crash.

Marcel Kittel of Giant-Shimano celebrates on the podium after winning the 4th stage of the 101st Tour de France on Tuesday. Bas Czerwinski / EPA / July 8, 2014
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Marcel Kittel continued his incredible domination of the sprint finishes yesterday by claiming his third stage out of the four contested so far at the Tour de France.

But there was a scare for defending champion Chris Froome, who crashed early in the stage and injured his left wrist.

There were no such worries for Vincenzo Nibali, though, who retained the race leader’s yellow jersey.

Following victories in the first and third stages in England on Saturday and Monday, Kittel edged out Norway’s Alexander Kristoff on the 163.5-kilometre fourth stage from Le Touquet to Lille.

Kristoff thumped his handlebars in frustration as he crossed the line, half a wheel behind the burly German, whose power over the last 100 metres made the difference.

In an incredibly close sprint, Frenchman Arnaud Demare was only a wheel length behind in third. With former world champion Mark Cavendish, a 25-time stage winner on the Tour, out of the race with a separated shoulder, the question has become whether anyone can stop Kittel.

Unlike in Saturday and Monday’s stages, his Giant-Shimano team failed to control the run-in to the finish, but still Kittel found himself in the right place at the finish and his greater power did the rest.

“I was not sure when to start my sprint,” Kittel said. “It worked out, but it was very close. In the end, there was a possibility to sit on the wheels of another team.”

The major news of the day involved Froome’s nasty fall. He suffered abrasions to his left thigh and elbow, but it was his wrist seemed to bother him most. After a trip to the medical car, he came back with a splint on his left wrist and bandaging on his left thigh and right hand.

Team director Nicolas Portal played down any concerns and said the splint was a “precaution”.

“We were very scared, as was everyone,” Portal said. “I spoke to him, he seems OK. He must have fallen hard, I imagine, but it’s OK.”

His teammates were relieved.

“He fell, it’s clear to see, but his injuries are quite superficial,” said Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford. “He felt well at the end, but we’ll still take him for an X-ray to ensure he’s not got anything. I hope he’s fine.”

The other news was the withdrawal of former winner Andy Schleck with a knee injury. The 29-year-old Luxembourger fell around 30km from the end of Monday’s third stage, but pulled out before the start of the fourth stage after tests showed he had damage to his ligaments and meniscus. His team said he would need an operation.

As in the first three stages, there was a breakaway almost from the start. French favourite Thomas Voeckler and Spaniard Luis Angel Mate Mardones broke clear in the first 10km, but never stretched the lead beyond three-and-a-half minutes. Mate Mardones suffered a puncture, leaving Voeckler on his own, and he was caught with 17km left.

From there, the sprinters took over and set the stage for a thrilling dash to the line.

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