Germany's Andrew Greipel roared as the rider they call the 'Gorilla' took the fourth stage with chaos following behind him that took out several top riders including Mark Cavendish.
Germany's 'Gorilla' sprints to Stage 4 win at Tour de France
ROUEN, France // Germany's Andre Greipel roared with raw emotion on Wednesday after landing his first Tour de France victory this year in a finale devoid of the British sprint king Mark Cavendish.
Fabian Cancellera held on to the leader's yellow jersey at the end of the 214-kilometre ride from Abbeville to Rouen, where Greipel, known as "the Gorilla" for his imposing physique, prevailed in a small bunch finish.
The closing stages were marked by a multi-bike pile-up less than three kilometres from the line, with Cavendish among the casualties.
It left a reduced group of fast men racing for the line, with Greipel coming off the wheel of his teammate Greg Henderson in the final 200 metres to claim the second Tour victory of his career.
The Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi was second, with the Dutchman Tom Veelers third.
"It was a really emotional victory for me, we worked hard for this and I think we deserved this," said Greipel, who rides for Lotto-Belisol.
"I didn't see the crash … it's not nice to see those pictures. But it's a part of racing and there was still a lot of quality guys there, so it's no problem for me.
"I've just won a stage in the Tour de France, so it couldn't be better."
The early breakaway, which was formed almost immediately, was allowed to race on unhindered, as expected, a day after the rigours of the first crash-marred stage on Tuesday led to three riders abandoning the Tour.
Yukiya Arashiro of Japan and the French pair David Moncoutie and Anthon Delaplace were no threat to the peleton and soon built a maximum lead of nearly nine minutes.
With a pancake-flat finish, however, they were at the mercy of the sprinters' teams.
They began to put riders at the front of the bunch to prepare the chase, which began in earnest 30km after Cavendish had beaten his sprint rivals for the green jersey points at the intermediate sprint at 140km.
Twenty kilometres further on, the day's first crash took down the Australian Jonathan Cantwell and the Frenchman Mickael Cherel, but they were soon back on their bikes, chasing.
It took an extra effort, however, for the yellow-jersey contender Vincenzo Nibali to rejoin the peloton after he suffered a flat tyre and had to wait for a new bike before being paced back to the bunch by two of his Liquigas teammates.
With 60km remaining the trio's lead had dropped to five minutes and was almost halved by the time Arashiro took advantage of a small descent to try to pull away from his breakaway companions.
His effort did not last long and the front trio were back together for a desperate bid to get to the finish.
But with sprinters' teams like Orica-GreenEdge and Lotto beginning to up the pace, the three riders up font saw their lead drop to below a minute for the first time with 15km to race, with the closing stages marred by the second major crash of the 99th Tour.
After the crash, Greipel's Lotto team took over and he was quick to pay tribute to the teammates who wound up the pace. He said Marcel Sieberg "did a really long and fast pull" with 1.3km to go, and then Jurgen Roelandst led the way from 800m to 450m.
He said that Henderson, a New Zealander, "was almost at top speed, and then I hit the front with 200 to go.
"It was a bit long but it did the job".
Thursday's stage runs 196.5km from Rouen to Saint-Quentin.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE